... a witty dance with the ghost of Nabokov and a razor-edged commentary on academia at our current fraught moment ... At the end of the day, these characters may suffer skewering as English professors, and they may suffer skewering as all-too-human lovers, but Jonas seems to take the most pleasure in tormenting them as writers ... contains far too many uncomfortable truths to be merely fun, but — especially for those of us with feet in the worlds of academia and literature — it remains, by turns, cathartic, devious and terrifically entertaining.
The excitement begins on the cover, designed to drop jaws ... There’s no mistaking the subject of this novel, which is desire ... Jonas...is a playwright and professor at Skidmore College ... The intriguing titles of [her] plays — among them, 'We Used to Wear Bonnets & Get High All the Time' and 'Untitled Zoo Story Project (Autosaved)' — share the cleverness and current sensibility that infuse the novel ...The lightning-quick fantasy detours are an ongoing pleasure of the novel, one of the elements that makes you love the narrator despite her pesky streak of awfulness ... She has you in the palm of her hand at this point, and you are not going anywhere ... Jonas’s narrator is a work of art in herself, with at least one foot on the wrong side of #MeToo. You wouldn’t want to let that stop you.
Explore[s] in blistering detail the power imbalances that inevitably exist in academia—and their unsettling consequences ... Jonas dissects her narrator’s shifting perspectives on power and desire ... In darkly funny terms, Jonas creates a portrait of a narcissist reckoning with her age and vanity, but also the limits of her power. She’s certainly not one to root for, but that doesn’t make her observations on the impact of her husband’s actions any less astute ... The combination of knowledge, power and misbehavior makes for a titillating story.
Julia May Jonas. Mark that name. She’s very, very good ... richly plotted ... it’s too delicious to spoil. But it’s fair to say that Vladimir goes into such outrageous territory that my jaw literally dropped at moments while I was reading it. There’s a rare blend here of depth of character, mesmerizing prose, and fast-paced action ... Anyone in the mood to read about campus politics, outrageous flirtations, moral quandaries, ill-conceived road trips, sexual adventures, and bad ideas in general will fall for Vladimir.
The shackles from the opening scene might make you think all this is going somewhere extremely gory, but Jonas is too funny and too inventive a writer to follow the cliché of the repressed woman giving into blood lust. Vladimir indulges in the requisite Stephen King references, but this book is rich and dense with allusions, and Misery is far from the most interesting work Jonas is playing with here. More productive are the links to Rebecca, which informs Vladimir's thriller-like plot, and Lolita, which informs practically everything else: the dark comedy, the occasional leaps into something close to surrealism, the web of references and misdirections ... Together, all of the allusions swirl and spiral provocatively around and around Jonas’s central questions ... Vladimir...avoids the traps of glibness, stridency, or orthodoxy, choosing instead to play, question, and probe. And the ideas it pulls into the light will linger long after you read the final, haunting line.
A virtuoso debut ... [The] naughty cover, combined with the novel's title, also serves as a warning that this is going to be a sly and subversive read. After all, there's only one Vladimir who reigns supreme in the literary realm, so any novel that gestures to Vladimir Nabokov and, by implication, Lolita is a novel to be wary of. Our unnamed narrator here, our Humbert Humbertina, if you will, is a professor of women's literature in her late 50s who's so witty, sharp and seductive that, as a reader, I was pretty much putty in her hands, as generations of her students have been ... You may recoil from our narrator's cool rationale...but surely you can also hear how deft she is in her professorial way of complicating the situation, prodding us readers to look at things from another angle ... [An] extraordinary novel, which is so smart and droll about the absurdities and mortifications of aging and sexual shame, as well as the shifting power dynamics on college campuses ... We can seek to suppress that which upsets our sense of morality or we can engage with what is disturbing, offensive, deeply wrong. And, when reading the artful Vladímír, we can also have a damn good time doing it, too.
... energetic ... Jonas, with a potent, pumping voice, has drawn a character so powerfully candid that when she does things that are malicious, dangerous and, yes, predatory, we only want her to do them again ... Jonas is obviously keyed-in to the waxing and waning of the #MeToo movement ... The climax of the book is expectedly dramatic, and the symbolism of what happens to our narrator and her husband is a bit heavy-handed ... Though it intimates an opportunity for redemption, even contrition, the narrator’s interest in the accuser (and potential victim) is, in the end, purely literary.
[The narrator] is wily and often dishonest ... In her, Jonas has penned a frustrating yet compelling character—smart, vain, callous, surprisingly maternal, and struggling with what it means to be an aging woman ... Vladimir is well-written, insightful and darkly humorous ... The prose is biting, and the pace is swift ... This is a mostly entertaining and consistently challenging novel that approaches feminism, academia, marriage and late middle age with a cynical and winking eye.
Among contemporary novelists, Lionel Shriver is the queen of these sour apple antiheroines. Her characters tend to be resentful, intelligent, picky, prickly and disdainful of weakness. They are also irresistible in a way that the narrator of Vladimir isn’t, perhaps because Jonas can’t quite persuade the reader of her professor’s reckless id ... Jonas is an acidic observer of the body’s torments, and in dramatizing the perils of appetite she channels a story as potent (and ancient) as that of Adam and Eve. But what begins as an ode to transgression (yes, please!) takes a last-minute turn into an oddly conservative morality tale. The two transgressors of Vladimir find no artistic rewards or psychological freedom in their line-crossing. Instead, they wind up humiliated and maimed, while the afflicted parties remain safely ensconced in their institutions, apparently triumphant in victimhood.
One of the few disappointments of the novel is that it doesn’t follow this mix of attraction and disgust, defiance and shame, as far as it could. Jonas has a dramatist’s feel for conflict, stacking the first half of the novel with a series of tightly wound confrontations ... we never get into John’s Title IX hearing, and we never get to see the spark between the professor and Vladimir take on a life of its own. Instead, the plot takes a melodramatic turn away from the campus into a series of somewhat improbable (and highly spoilable) events ... The novel makes a rare attempt to take such a woman at her word and map out the contours of her inner life. There is room in Vladimir for her to be a frustrated artist, a faltering lover, and a woman making sense of the shadow that has engulfed her marriage. She can be sparkling and astute, obtuse and pitiless. She might be at her most brilliant when she is staking out her shakiest positions. But who said she had to be right?
Vladimir is essentially a work of affair literature. But it is, refreshingly, the story of a woman living out her own fantasies while questions about her husband’s affairs—those that make the news—swirl around her ... Jonas goes to great lengths to evoke the college environment: the offices and classrooms, students and colleagues, libraries and departments. Any reader who has found a home within such spaces may again feel welcome in this world, and the narrator relishes life within the institution ... The plot turns increasingly maximalist, and eventually leads toward peril. For although the narrator’s environment may seem cozy, even quaint, it contains a darker undercurrent ... self-lacerating passages can be draining. They can also sometimes be irritating. But the narrator’s self-criticisms also twist back on themselves, becoming almost playful references to the male authors ... The novel is fascinating not because of its treatment of desire per se, but instead because of its unquestioning acceptance of it—of its capacity to rear its ugly, craving head at any moment of our lives, even long past the time when it is expected to go quietly.
With a title that inevitably brings to mind Nabokov and his Lolita and a blurb that advertises its #MeToo credentials, you might imagine it to be a simple morality tale. You’d be wrong ... like everyone in this twisty, sexy, shocking treat of a novel, she doesn’t comfortably fit into any villain/victim template ... jaw-dropping gear shift changes everything. I was utterly hooked ... Occasionally, the students descend into snowflake caricatures, but as a whole this is an astonishing debut, unashamedly plotty without sacrificing style or depth, and thought-provoking without being too cringingly zeitgeisty. How on earth will Julia May Jonas better this?
... arresting ... Above all, though, Vladimir is a novel about female appetite – for sex, food, power, success – and what the ageing process does to it ... a quietly captivating novel. Jonas’s voice is so assured, in fact, that for most of the time it seems astonishing that this is a debut. The confidence wavers towards the end, though, with a heavy-handed denouement: an unsuccessful attempt to tame the complex themes, and pin down this slippery and uncomfortably compelling narrator. The wobbly ending is disappointing – the narrator is oddly neutered by it – but perhaps this is a price worth paying for what is otherwise an engrossing and clever debut.
... sweeps us along on a sometimes claustrophobic ride ... Part dark comedy and part satire, with a dash of the gothic and plenty of literary allusions, Vladimir is a little hard to pin down ... Jonas’ first novel, but she’s also a playwright who teaches at Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York. With her background as a dramatist, she brings notable verve and drama to this sharp campus novel.
...provocative ... Jonas eschews easy, sympathetic narrative paths. Her protagonist is a woman less affronted by her husband’s sexual proclivities than by the widening generational divide that would hold him accountable ... not an easy novel. It soldiers into charged territory – weighted power dynamics in academia, sex, age gaps and class divides – with an unreliable and at times almost defiantly unlikable narrator at the helm. But the darkly wry novel proves a thorny, unafraid exploration of a post-menopausal woman’s desire, so rarely explored in art and popular culture except to turn lustful older women into the butt of jokes ... seductively subversive.
Deeply engrossing ... Jonas’ novel is an enthralling, self-aware, and, at times, hilarious critique of academic privilege, while the narrator’s journey is a thoughtful allegory for how the old guard is responding to a new world. This tale is a joy to read as it lambastes resistance to change, while still allowing for victories and compassion for the characters it roasts.
Several interesting subplots support the main one as it ticks along, picks up speed, and finally hurtles toward its explosive climax ... A conversation at the pool party about why young writers are so drawn to memoir and autofiction, a pronouncement on the best timing for a forbidden cigarette, and advice about cooking tomato sauce are typical of the astuteness of this book on matters literary, psychological, and culinary ... Like the man she shackles to a chair in the prologue, once this narrator has you, she won't let go. A remarkable debut.
... peppered with subversions of this kind, from the narrator’s early assertion that 'perhaps I am an old man more than I am an oldish white woman', since she is compelled by desire, to the introduction of her adult, androgynous, bisexual daughter Sid, emancipated from 'the heterosexual prison'. Yet Jonas portrays a world in which women, despite attempts to unshackle themselves, trip into knotty and constricting gender norms: though priding herself on an 'unconventional/ marriage, the narrator is engulfed by domestic labour, while it is her own body, not Vladimir’s, and its faults with which she is preoccupied ... Arguments of female agency, sex positivity and what constitutes true trauma are wrung dry – it is the topic of female pain and its fetishisation in art, however, which Jonas illuminates. Among the novel’s most disturbing passages are the narrator’s recollected encounters with predatory professors and family friends, dismissed as little more than embarrassing ... With its fervent 'embrace' of 'the I I I', its understated mundanity and poised restraint, Jonas’s debut joins a swath of authors with nameless protagonists, among them Rachel Cusk and Amina Cain, and their interrogation of the female canon ... what lets this intelligent, knowing portrayal of a woman’s spiralling midlife crisis down is that the questions it seeks to answer are not as morally dubious as it seems to claim. The much-overstated 15-year age gap between Vladimir and the narrator is characteristic of the novel’s concern about age-related power dynamics; Vladimir is snagged on whether the assumption that young women cannot consent to relationships with older men is anti-feminist, though its stilted attempt to give the title of victim or oppressor to each is where the novel loses its footing.
Mordantly funny ... Vain, narcissistic, and seemingly oblivious to the absurdity of her actions, the narrator can nevertheless pluck at readers’ sympathies ... The author generously studs the narrative with clever literary allusions...and surprisingly upends assumptions about gender, power, and shame. Jonas is off to a strong start.