Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

Vladimir is a novel about desire, consent, and the academic world, as an English professor deals with accusations against her husband whilst becoming obsessed with a younger academic. When an academic power couple are left with their reputations waning after he is accused of relationships with his students, and she sticks by him because they’ve always had an agreement in terms of relationships with others, the situation already seems complex. But when the narrator, a woman getting older and hoping to write another book, becomes obsessed with Vladimir, the new academic in the department, everything gets even more complicated.

Though the title suggests the book is about Vladimir and the narrator’s obsession, the book is more about her in general, as she tries to work out her life now, managing desire and relationships, and coming to terms with who people see her as. There’s a lot of toxic relationships and flawed characters, especially the narrator who is displayed with all her unlikeable thoughts as well as more understandable ones, but these don’t quite go where you might expect, which is a notable point about the novel: it doesn’t go where it seems to be heading.

I liked how the characters are pretty unlikeable, and very pretentious (there’s a ridiculous scene in which the narrator gives Vladimir praise about his novel basically as a list of playing to his ego), though it took a moment to get used to that. The book is trying to say things about consent and desire, and I don’t know how well it does that, but I thought the characterisation was clever and I liked how it seemed like it would veer into another genre, but actually returned firmly to the literary novel about the messy world of desire.

Packed with literary references and set in an academic world, Vladimir will perhaps appeal to some people more than others, but it’s an interesting version of the ‘academic has been sleeping with his students’ novel, seeing as it’s mostly about his wife who doesn’t really care about that.