Losing Julia
by Jonathan Hull, contemporary (2001)
Dell, $6.99, ISBN 0-440-23485-9

My hubby Mr Giggles just can't rave enough about Jonathan Hull's debut wartime-reminisce drama, Losing Julia. He just bought it a few weeks ago, and already this book is showing signs of wear at the spine. "Brilliant! I love this! This is as good as Stephen Wright's Meditations In Green." (Me: Who?) I glance at the lovely cover once a while and I do admit I am intrigued. Then again, hubby introduced me to James Joyce when we were dating, and I still haven't forgiven him for subjecting me to what seemed like an eternity of incoherent ramblings. (Yes, I'm a philistine.)

Still, after he spent an entire evening lauding this book to our dinner guests, I can't help but to succumb. I pick this book up and turn to page one.

First off, yes, Losing Julia is a beautiful exploration of a man who has never recovered from World War 1. Patrick Delaney's anchor to his sanity was the letters from and stories of his best friend Daniel's lover Julia. When the war is over and Daniel is killed, Patrick meets Julia in person for the first time at a war memorial, and like they say, it changes his life forever. He never gets Julia, even at the end (why do you think this book is called Losing Julia?), but his dreams and unsent letters to Julia form the backbone of this story.

Mr Hull succumbed to the use of the sentimental sap elements - a young lady discovering an aging Patrick and hearing his life story at the beginning, for instance. Steven Spielberg turned this use of elderly exploitative sap (Saving Private Ryan anyone?) into a crime, and it's a shame to see Mr Hull pandering to that school of schmaltz with this unnecessary angle.

But the writing is buoyant - Patrick tries so hard to be upbeat and unsentimental despite his acute loneliness that my heart goes to him, really. The writing weaves to and forth from past to present (warning: it can be confusing if one isn't paying deep attention) as Patrick celebrates and laments his life. Always, Julia is hovering at the edge of his mind, so close yet too far away.

But the one flaw that prevents me from loving this book as much as my hubby is the fact that Julia remains a symbol in this story. Call me sexist, but that's the reason I read romance - it's the rare genre where women aren't just celebrated for their beauty. Women are people, not one-dimensional martyrs or unattainable trophies. In this story, I don't know anything about Julia except that she's beautiful (obviously) and a loving, undemanding girlfriend (every man's prerequisite).

When hubby knows that I am writing this review, he puts on his Robert De Niro face. "I am watching yo-oooo-oooo-oooooo-ooo-ou!" he says. (I knew I should have hidden the Meet The Parents VCD in my underwear drawer.) Hah. But he doesn't have to worry. Losing Julia is a beautiful story that borders on poetry at times. But it's too centered on the male psyche to the exclusion of realistic female characters for my liking.

Rating: 87

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