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Posts Tagged ‘Irish Literature’

Julius Winsome‘ by Gerard Donovan was highly recommended to me by a couple of friends from my book club. I hadn’t heard of Gerard Donovan before and was excited to explore a new writer.

The story told in ‘Julius Winsome‘ is narrated by the title character. He lives in a cabin, in the middle of the woods in Maine. The nearest neighbours are a few miles away. The nearest town is also a few miles away. Julius lives with his dog Hobbes. Julius hasn’t gone to college, but is very well read, because his father inspired a love for literature in him. His father also left him with 3282 books. All the walls in Julius’ home are lined with bookshelves filled with books. 3282 books. One evening, at the end of October, Julius is sitting in front of the wood stove, in which the logs are crackling producing a beautiful sound and generating a pleasant warmth. He is reading a collection of short stories by Chekhov, while sipping a hot cup of tea. (I read those lines in the book atleast ten times. Such a perfect first scene. Sitting in front of the fire, in the fall, reading a book, sipping a cup of tea, with a dog at his feet – what can be better? Wait, where is the dog?) Julius suddenly discovers that his dog Hobbes is missing. He calls for Hobbes, but doesn’t hear any answer. He tries after a while, but still no answer. Sometime before he had heard a gunshot, but this is the time of the year, when there are hunters in the forest and so one hears gunshots. And so Julius had ignored it. But now he is worried. After a while, he becomes restless and goes out in the cold and searches for his dog. He finds Hobbes, some distance away, on the ground, shot by a gun, but still alive. Julius takes his truck, and rushes to the veterinarian. The doctor tries his best but it is too late. Hobbes has lost a lot of blood. He looks at Julius for the last time and then stops breathing. Julius brings him back home and buries him nearby. Julius feels very sad. As he describes it himself :

“By the time I was back in the cabin and stirring the fire, I missed him for the first time, missed him with a hammerstrike against the heart, the awful moment when you know what gone really means. It means no one sees how you live, what you do.
And along with the sadness, something else crept in the door, a trace of something else, I mean. It must have come from the woodpile or ran in from the woods, because I’d not felt anything like it before.”

That thing which creeps into his house along with the sadness, it darkens his heart, makes him thirst for revenge. What happens after that, what Julius does about it, is he able to find who killed Hobbes, is he able to take his revenge – these form the rest of the story.

Julius Winsome‘ is a beautiful study of loneliness, of solitude. It belongs in the category of the great introvert novels – like Patrick Süskind’sThe Pigeon‘ and ‘Perfume‘ and J.K.Huysmans‘ ‘Downstream‘ and ‘Against Nature‘, Robert Seethaler’sA Whole Life‘, Denis Thériault’sThe Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman‘ and Alexis M. Smith’sGlaciers‘. It describes what happens when an introvert sits in his cabin, sipping tea, reading his favourite book, and minding his own business, and the outside world suddenly enters his life, explodes into his life, changing it upside down. What happens is surprising and even amazing, and sometimes we may not even approve of what is happening, but if one is an introvert (not the introvert who claims to be one, but spends most evenings and weekends with friends and other people and has a busy social life, but the one who is the real deal, the introvert who spends a Saturday evening reading a book rather than catching up with friends, who watches movies alone because she / he hates other people when they talk during a movie, who hates talking on the phone but prefers texting, that kind of introvert), one can understand why things are happening the way they do. Gerard Donovan clearly loves Shakespeare and he passes on that love to the narrator whose account is filled with Shakespearean words and we find interesting scenes in which two people are pointing a gun at each other and the narrator quotes Shakespeare and the person on the opposite side says ‘What???‘ 🙂 I loved those scenes. It made me remember a Tamil movie called ‘Anniyan‘ in which the main character quotes Sanskrit shlokas to the bad guys and their faces widen with a bewildered look. After the initial cozy start and the subsequent tragedy, the story acquires the pace of a thriller and we want to turn the page to find out what happens next. It was interesting to see the story transforming in shape and become something new and different but which has deep roots in its past. Gerard Donovan’s prose is spare and beautiful and the narrative is interspersed with beautiful sentences and passages. The story has an interesting ending, something that I didn’t expect.

I loved ‘Julius Winsome‘. It is a beautiful story of solitude, love, friendship, loss, revenge, war, violence, redemption. It is also a beautiful story about the friendship between humans and dogs and a beautiful story about the love for literature and Shakespeare. I can’t wait to read more books by Gerard Donovan.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“My father was so sparing in his words you had to add water to them before they swelled into a sentence you could understand.”

“If a man whispers something to you in German, and you don’t speak the language, you won’t understand a word of it : he could be talking philosophy or cursing your parents. If he shouts the same thing or different German words at you, you still won’t understand a thing. When a dog lifts his head and howls while keeping his eyes on you, slightly from the side, it means he’s playful but knows that you’re putting one over him. If he puts his head back and barks at you full on, down from the stomach, he wants to play. If he growls from the stomach when you grab him and looks sideways at you, it’s pure affection, but if he growls straight ahead and shallow from the teeth, it’s a one-second warning. If you don’t understand his language, it’s all noise. Those men abroad in the woods did not, I think, understand my Shakespeare, though every word of it was English and I spoke carefully. I may as well have been barking at them. Time makes dogs of us.”

Have you read ‘Julius Winsome‘? What do you think about it?

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