My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I don’t know what I’ll write in my review. This book has been reviewed by many with very emotive words so I don’t really think my review will add anything new. But, as my usual habit, I like to babble away and in this one, I’ll do the same. Lol Think I’ll just talk about why this book impacted my so deeply and I’m glad to say Sylvain Reynard’s debut novel was a winner for me.
When I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure what to think. I’ve heard of it of course; saw the sparkling reviews and stars. I read the 1st 2 chapters and well, I was captivated by the ass that was Gabriel O. Emerson aka GOE (I’d take a GOD any day *wink wink* but GOE isn’t bad lol). I mean ass in both literal and theoretical sense. And lord he was some ass for the 1/3 of the book! I didn’t know Julia and he shared some history 6 yrs ago so I didn’t know why the hell she was taking his crap so easily. I’m not saying she had to put up with his crap even if she didn’t know him but I kinda got her standing. I’ve been a graduate student myself, my subject English Literature (and no GOE is sight *sigh*) so I know about crappy lecturers myself. If only those personages were as eye-candy as our Prof Emerson here I could take their crap much easily. Lol This story is quite complicated, not only because it had 500 or so pages (me wee brain is stuck with a routine of 300 pages novels so I felt, at times, it’s dragging) but also because of all the literary discussions, music and art related connotations. I love it when a novel make me do my own research; meanings, arts, music, historical places, facts and figures etc. Sometimes I fell in love with one place and its history/culture so much, I tell myself that I’d love to travel there someday (though not sure if I can ever do that in RL). Italy is one of those places. I must say that SR knows his stuff and never once I felt any of those notations, mentions or connotations were overdone. I might’ve felt the abundance of them because a lot of the things I read in this book were new to me. Like really good books, I’m a lover of good music. I listen to many varieties. I love to appreciate good musicians and meaningful lyrics that accompany some soulful music. Prof. Emerson is my soul mate, I must say, when it comes to his taste in music because I loved everything in it. Language doesn’t really bother me when it comes to music since I listen to Spanish, French, Portuguese, Scottish or Irish Gaelic etc. yet I don’t really know these languages. As long as I find something that’ll totally sweep my off my feet, as long as I can feel the music. I’m whining about this because so far, I can count the novels I read which recommended me good music. I’ve only heard one Loreena McKennitt song so far but as I was reading this book, I’ve been listening to her albums constantly. And her songs definitely fit with the theme of this book. I’ve also been listening to Besame Mucho a lot, heehee! ;)
Sorry for the digression! So, I could definitely divide this book into 3 parts: 1st would be Gabriel and Julia’s past together. 2nd is the time spent in the university as their relationship grew from barely shaky to something solid. And then, of course when they finally fell in love and decided to bare their souls to each-other. The past, I didn’t know for a while. I absolutely hated Gabriel on spot and was thinking I could make this guy dance on his toes because I got temper too. No seriously, he was a jerk and I didn’t care for his attractive arse a bit. Men like that always piss me off. And Julia, well, of course she was clumsy and things were slipping off of her hands more often than not. I didn’t dislike her like some so vehemently did because personally, I could connect with her to some level. I can see why she was the way she was and when I learned about her dysfunctional family (for the lack of a better word because her now deceased mother was just... I don’t know, I thank God everyday for my own wonderful Goddess). The things Julia witnessed as a child while living with her grossed me out. So goes for her father who was a coward (again, for the lack of a better word), always choosing everything else over his only daughter. So, yes, I think she came off as a very real character with lots of emotional vulnerabilities. Her clumsiness were just an output of those. She has great inner strength, of which we only had some glimpse in this book. The Clark family (also Gabriel’s adoptive family) has been a good support for her, as we’ve seen throughout the book; especially her close friend Rachel’s mother, Grace. Then again, the whole family was great. I loved reading about them. This family and the bond that the family members share worked as a catalyst between Gabriel and Julia’s relationship. They both wanted what Grace and Richard had, a passionate couple deeply in love for as long as they lived; ‘til recently, as Grace passed away suffering from cancer.
What happened 6 years ago? Gabriel has always been a troubled individual, as an adult it just went out of control. We don’t much know about his real parents but that Grace took him in when he was about 8/9 when his own mother died. He could never blend in with the Clarks, despite the fact that Grace and Michael always treated him as their own. He was doing drugs when he went to college and lots of meaningless sex and in between, trying to pursue his education. It was a good thing that he was a brilliant student, which ultimately gave him a new meaning of life before Julia came back in it. Gabriel thought he’d never be a ‘normal’ individual, that meaningless is all he’ll have. I could feel this; he was depressed (I know something about it) and lonely and channeled it through more meaningless sex in later life when something tragic happened when he was still in college. He made a decision afterwards, went through with it, and had no clue as to what to do with his life except teaching and having more meaningless sex. I’ll say it out loud that I’m not fond of one night stands but I don’t think it’s something necessarily shameful. Sometimes things happen... But I got it clear that Gabriel was not happy with the quality of his life. And Julia was the help he needed. So they met, in an event, that was pretty odd but not a totally unrealistic situation. Gabriel, who was under cocaine induced haze, took Julia as his ‘Beatrice’. Needless to say, he was already obsessed with everything that entails Dante. Later, he couldn’t really remember what happened so he couldn’t identify Julia. Gabriel never met Julia before that day, didn’t know her name. He just had a bad fight (related to the tragedy and his addiction) with his parents and his brother Scott. They had this soulful meeting in the old Apple orchard that took Julia’s breathe away. I loved that scene. It’s like two people meant to be together just came together. But, it ended in a misunderstanding that did shape their life in a bitter way. Gabriel ended up in the rehab, thinking ‘Beatrice’ was some drug induced imagination and Julia thought he meant none of the things he said to her. Later in the story, many a times Gabriel grieved that if only he came back for her, if only he looked for her, if only he waited for her... things could’ve been so much better.
Julia moved on, had a very bad relationship with a senator’s son, who was foul and abusive. He did everything to shake her self-respect, which includes blackmailing and cheating on her with her roommate, who is also her father’s girlfriend’s daughter. We don’t learn of Julia’s past with Simon in details here but I had some idea as to what might’ve happened. So you can see where Julia stood when she came to study in Toronto University. It’s also a good thing that she’s a brilliant student and she pursued her education. She HAD to do something to run away from her awful past. Now, Gabriel wasn’t helping her at all by being an arse! Moreover, he had no correct memory of that magical night they shared. Julia never told Rachel about it too so there really wasn’t anyone else to verify that night. She’d been in love with him, still in love, she has his old collage day photo and cherishes it. But he’s making her life miserable; he was not only behaving badly but was an arrogant, self-centered boor with an anger issue! Charming! Paul, the research assistant to Gabriel and Julia’s classmate informs her about Gabriel’s anger issue. As Paul and Julia grew closer, she got to know more about Gabriel’s personal life and proclivities, most of which aren’t pleasant to hear, especially if you think you’re in love with that certain person. So Gabriel snaps and berates her for virtually nothing but gradually, he also becomes obsessed with this attractive brown-eyed girl. I’m not fond of love triangles which I thought would form with Paul in it but thankfully, it didn’t. At least not in this book. But Gabriel was definitely jealous of Paul. When his obsession with Julia grew and his comparison to her with Dante’s Beatrice (and how she looked a lot like her as Beatrice was depicted in Holiday’s artwork), he begin to think of her as a ‘brown-eyed angel’ and Paul was the ‘angelf*cker’. Oh man, I loved how every time Gabriel would go angelf*cker on Paul! Lol Then, Gabriel begins helping Julia in other ways i.e. financially with a bursary, seeing her poor apartment or buying her things in Grace’s name when Rachel was dropping by. So far, Julia said nothing about that night and Gabriel had this vague feeling that he saw her somewhere but couldn’t point it out. I actually wished she confessed a bit sooner. But when she did in an incident, it was pure bliss!
It happened when their relationship grew intimate (not sex) despite their individual differences. Julia didn’t like hearing stuffs about Gabriel like that he had an affair with another Professor of the department and that he has never had a serious relationship (from Rachel) with a girl. Surely not the stuff of dreams and yet, she’s attracted to Gabriel in a way that she can’t defy. We also got some POVs from Gabriel about his sex life, things I didn’t like reading, at all. In RL, I’ll never have any respect for that lecturer. Anyway, Gabriel takes Julia out along with Rachel. Julia already knew of someone called Paulina and was sure she’s his mistress or something. She was jealous. Even Rachel couldn’t answer to who this woman was. One day, when Gabriel takes Julia out on a dinner, Paulina’s call makes him go out the door frantically, leaving her alone in the restaurant. Then one day, she ‘saves’ a drunk Gabriel from another graduate student who was bend on sleeping with him for good grades. If the university knew of it, Gabriel’s job here would be done! Julia gets to see his bedroom when she helps him home and those erotic photos, which disturbs her (if you read about her past, you’ll surely see why) and yet she can’t help but be fascinated too. Later we get to learn that those photos were taken by Gabriel himself, those women were his ‘friends’. Not the stuff I’d ever wanna know about the man I love but I had questions, like if he was doing one night stands (he never brought his ‘dates’ home as far as I understood) then when did he take these photos? Back to the story, Julia takes care of him, sleeps in his arms, happy because when Gabriel talked to her, he felt like her old Gabriel. Julia thought maybe, just maybe things would be better... But at daylight, Gabriel acts as an arse again and hurts her. WOW I wanted to kick his butt! It’s then she confesses about that night before going away. Could you tell I was totally, completely absorbed in this book by the time this happened that I keep thinking of the book while I was in office?
I loved loved loved the way Gabriel finally started groveling through messages and by sending her flowers (Floriography, I assume). I have to note that I loved their messages, especially Gabriel’s; all the texts, voice or emails. Now, this time, Julia kept him at bay. She was hurt and with good reasons. Some of his voicemails were so good, lol, I found myself sighing over them. He didn’t like seeing her with Paul and so on. I thought Julia did some really good tit-for-tat to Gabriel. Loved it all! Then finally, when in his last message came, Julia knew she can’t really go on without him. She finally concedes. After that, they met in his or her apartment, breakfasted or dined together, shared more texts, emails and so on. It was a work to keep it secret from the University officials but they were successful. Julia wanted to change her thesis supervisor from Gabriel to someone else and he helps her with it too. Even then, sometimes Julia would hear about Paulina. She asked Gabriel but he never talks about her. Also, a tattoo done on his chest with a name on it, something dark and forbidden. Gabriel won’t answer about any of this. They would share a bed without having sex, which I thought was very sweet. Gabriel was trying to do everything to make Julia happy because in his mind, he knew he cared for Julia and wanted her more than anything else in the world. She deserved better so he can’t mess around with her. Gabriel also felt vulnerable about her reactions to those secrets of his past. Would she understand and forgive him or would she leave him lonely, again? Gabriel doesn’t have any financial trouble since his natural father, before dying, left him a hefty inheritance out of guilt. He didn’t want it but afterwards, was kinda forced to accept it. They begin to open up about their life though, as Julia talked about her awful childhood with her alcoholic mother and Gabriel tells her that he can’t have children. Now, it shocked me, really. I understood his reasons but I thought it was grossly unfair to Julia in the end. I wouldn’t at all mind if it was natural but of course, it wasn’t. Then when I learned of the tragedy and its sordid details, I didn’t like it at all. It bugged me to no end while Julia took in all in very easily. It was very unbelievable IMO.
Anyway, in between they also spend some really good time with Gabriel showing some amazing gestures for Julia, like the visit to the Museum. ;) That was a good one. Gabriel also lectures in his big seminar on Dante, which Julia attends with Paul. Here we meet the other Professor Gabriel had a brief affair with. The woman is a dom. Though he had sex with her, Gabriel never liked what she offered so it ended soon. The woman keep giving Gabriel eyes and being familiar in front of everyone which Julia didn’t like at all. And when the woman understood Julia has some interest in Gabriel, she came on to her. I have nothing against F/F relationships but hello, you can’t just accost a stranger in the washroom and make suggestive remarks to that person and keep on doing it even when you get that she didn’t reciprocate. It IS creepy! The woman actually brought Gabriel in her remarks. B*tch! I loved how Julia talked back and handled the situation smartly. Julia had no idea about BDSM and when she asked Gabriel about his relationship with that woman, he wasn’t willing to elaborate. I wish he did. From this time, I thought he was treating her as a child with all his talks of not corrupting her. It did make me roll my eyes a bit. After that, they make plans to go home together for thanksgiving. Trouble follows them as Simon comes back into Julia’s life. He tries to blackmail her and then one day, he tries to rape her too. It was horrible to read but Gabriel rushed in time to save her. Now the whole Clark family believes (even Scott with whom Gabriel never had a good relationship) that whatever he feels for Julia is real. Julia already confessed her love, Gabriel could only return it later. But he was ever determined to tell her everything before he makes love to her because to him, Julia was the light and the purity he craved for his soul. He didn’t want to corrupt her (as he thought himself irredeemable) but he can’t live without her as well.
After they return to Toronto, one day, finally Gabriel decides to tell Julia all, knowing this might come as the end of their precious time together. And, chap 31 comes. I was shocked, yes. I finally got to know about Paulina and how she and Gabriel met. That Gabriel was already a cocaine addict, that he pulled Paulina in with him, that she was a ‘convenient lay’, that she got pregnant, that he didn’t care enough for her and asked her to get an abortion, that when finally he decided he wanted the baby they were clumsy enough to lose it before it was born. They called the girl Maia. I didn’t like knowing that he had such a history with a woman, that he sterilized himself thinking about Paulina because she can’t have babies anymore. I didn’t like that she’d be a part of his life, as he tells Julia (to me, it felt like she has to share Gabriel with her in some way). I didn’t think Gabriel was to blame for what happened because Paulina, though somewhat sheltered, wasn’t a virgin (in comparison to Julia). She knew Gabriel didn’t love her, that he was addicted and still she seduced him. He treated her like trash and she was stupid enough to get addicted herself and then, get pregnant. I didn’t like how easily Gabriel told Julia he never loved Paulina, never knew her well though they created such a mess together. After he got out clean from the rehab, Gabriel has been taking care of her since she became mentally unstable after the miscarriage. God, I felt someone was smothering me with something while Julia... well, she was a saint I must say! As I mentioned in the paragraph above, I couldn’t quite believe how easily she took it all in. Then as I thought back of their meeting in the orchard with this mess, because the meeting happened right after that, I didn’t quite know what to make of this revelation.
In accordance to all these, I felt like screaming oh c’mon, get on with it already! I was beginning to feel a little frustrated with all of Gabriel’s talk that effectively put Julia on a pedestal. Also the fact that he was putting it off even when Julia wanted to go on with it. And when they finally did it in Florence, I didn’t like it that Gabriel was trying to measure her reactions as they make love (I would’ve loved to see him lose control) or that he was trying to mold himself into someone entirely different for her sake (What’s wrong with f-words while making love, really? Why would he want to hide this side of himself?) But Gabriel did cover it with the best words ever, which was of course, I love you. Julia and Gabriel’s story isn’t finished yet, as we know there’s going to be a sequel out soon. I hope I have answers to some of my questions and doubts. I wish to see Julia as a strong and sexy woman, keeping Gabriel on his toes. ;) I want some answers about Paul because he seemed an unfinished business, so were Simon and Paulina. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I can only say I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel.
Mr. Reynard, write faster, please!
5 stars for all the literary discussions, Dante and for “The Divine Comedy”.
5 stars for the music recommendations.
5 stars for the amazing world of arts.
5 stars for the enigmatic Prof. Emerson and lovable Julia.
5 stars for one helluva fascinating read!
I loved this version of the cover but don’t know which version. Oh those eyes! *sigh*