Special thanks to a friend who recommended this book to me. When I say ‘recommended’, I mean she handed me a copy of the book and made sure I’d make the effort to read it. Which was actually pretty smart, because I’m usually terrible at taking people’s suggestions when it comes to books. You can decide what that says about me, but I’m just going to argue that if I could read every book in the world, I would. So there.
Julius Winsome, written by Gerard Donovan, is a story about survival, sadness, grief and terrible loneliness. It tells the story of Julius Winsome, a 51 year old man who lives isolated in the woods up in Maine, where it gets bitterly cold and he’s almost entirely shut off from the world. For many years, all he has for company are the books left to him from his father (literally thousands of them) and his only friend, Hobbes, his dog. Through flashbacks and introspection, we also learn that Julius had a relationship with a ‘townie’, Claire, who leaves his life just as suddenly as she entered it.
Julius Winsome begins on a cold day when Julius hears a gunshot and later discovers that his beloved dog has been shot at close range. Determined to avenge his friend, Julius goes on a downward spiral where he learns just how easy it is to take another’s life.
This book isn’t exactly ‘fun’ reading, and even writing the review I still get a bit heartsick when I think about it. Though the plot in the novel is violent, it tells a story about how someone can be driven by love and by grief.
Though it would be easy to scoff at a man who avenges his dog, Donovan writes Julius Winsome (both the book and the character) in such a way that it is truly heartbreaking. Yes, Hobbes is simply a dog, but he is the only companion that Julius has, and without him he feels alone in the world. Though his actions are abhorrent, Julius is written in such a way that the reader feels sympathy for him, perhaps because each of us know what it feels like to grieve over something we’ve lost, whether that’s a relationship, a loved one or a family memory. And perhaps what resonates even more strongly is the idea of injustice – haven’t we all had something taken away from us that we should still have?
The other aspect of the novel that I think worthwhile exploring is the concept of loneliness, and how we can feel more alone once we’ve tasted true love or friendship, and Julius feels this strongly when he falls for Claire; a woman who is definitely selfish, but also probably naive in not understanding what her actions have had on Julius’s life. And although Hobbes an ordinary companion in the sense of the word, he was a being that relied on Julius, and that generated his happiness from him. How horrific to suddenly have all that taken away from you.
Though it is only a short novel, and a relatively straight-forward plot, Donovan writes Julius Winsome with a combination of elegance and simplicity. He creates a character that we should hate, yet feel pain for, and he accomplishes the goal that all writers (I assume) hope to achieve – he wrote a book that has still lingered with me as the reader, weeks after I’ve read it.
Have you read Julius Winsome or anything by Gerard Donovan? Let me know!