Vladimir by Julia May Jonas review – slippery sexual politics

This intelligent and knowing debut about a female academic’s dangerous obsession with a younger professor is less risk-taking than it thinks it is

“I ask this one thing:/let me go mad in my own way,” opens the epigraph – taken from Sophocles’s Antigone – of Julia May Jonas’s debut novel. It unfolds in the wake of seven allegations of sexual misconduct against a female academic’s husband, John (another professor at the same college), triggering, in turn, a slew of student signatures calling for his removal. The supposed “madness” of the novel lies not only in the whipped-up condemnation of John, but in the narrator’s slippery descent into her own murky infatuation.

The arrival of debut author Vladimir, a suave, second-generation Russian, “clearly a transplant from the city”, as a professor amid this wreckage spells further disaster for the unnamed narrator, whose wry and shrewd voice steers this novel. Creating a quartet of entanglements, Vladimir brings wife Cynthia (and young daughter) in tow, whose deep, unexplained trauma and “honourable depression” elevates her in our narrator’s eyes.

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