Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review: Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull

In honor of my very first follower, I've decided to review a book that she sent me for Christmas. By her own admission, this gift (and it was a gift!) was a last minute, spur-of-the-moment thought, and I'm super pleased that she had it, because this book is one of the best debuts I've ever read. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to read something honest, and funny, and heart-wrenching and just all around amazing. I've since pushed this book on at least 19 people. I loved it. Thank you, Allison! And without further ado, here's my review, as copied from Goodreads... First, I should probably go ahead and thank Allison for this one. She threw this into a Christmas box she sent me as a last minute whim. To be honest, I probably never would have picked it up on my own. But that would have been a shame, because this story was fantastic. So far this year is starting out wonderfully. This is my 4th 5-star read this year alone. When I think of that ratio, I feel like I've been super generous already this year. But I think that everything has been deserving of the rating I've given, so I'm not going to change anything. :) This book is absolutely deserving of a 5-star rating. I would NEVER have guessed that this is a first novel. Sometimes a first novel will take you by surprise, just by being far better than any first novel should be, and better by far than some 5th or 10th or 25th novels. This is one of those. I was feeling kind of blah about the book that I was reading, and this happened to be within arms reach, so I picked it up. When I say that this book grabbed me from the very first page, I'm not exaggerating. Just the descriptions and the words and the feelings that flow off the page were enough to hook me. I wrote down my first quote at page 13, and then kept jotting them down throughout the book. There are so, so many insightful and beautiful quotes in this book. So many vivid descriptions and heart-tugging and honest emotions. This book is an absolute gem. And I do NOT say that often. This is Patrick Delaney's story. His life story, in a way, but really his life centered around small islands of understanding and happiness that he found in two people that he loved and lost. We see Patrick through his eyes, and his insights and memories and at different stages of his life. We see how he's changed with each stage, even though he doesn't tell us, "I was different back then..." or anything, I could just see. We see him as a scared, naive 20 year old heading off to war and meeting the first person who changed his life. We see him as a 30 year old, more than a little jaded, now visiting the war memorial and meeting the 2nd person who changed his life. Then finally we see him as an old man, looking back over his life and pondering his impending death. Each of Patrick's "lives" was represented on the page with truth and grace and clarity that I think would be hard for a different writer to carry off, let alone to do so by intertwining them in and amongst each other without losing his (the writer's) way, or losing the reader. The three stories blended together perfectly, and felt so intimate that toward the end, I felt as if I was losing a little bit of myself in Patrick's loss. I am infinitely impressed that Hull was able to write an 83 year old man pondering life and old age and death as convincingly as he did. One would think that he was writing about his own experience. It was beautiful and staggeringly sad at the same time. But then, 83 year old Patrick is witty and funny too. Here's the quote I mentioned writing down from page 13:
"I thought dying old would be easier than dying young. Now I see how that very expectation makes it so much worse. Die young and fists clench with rage; die old and shoulders merely shrug. If you are young and dying, you are embraced with love and sympathy; charities exist solely to accommodate your final wishes. If you are old and dying, well you're right on course, aren't you? Take too long about it and the looks begin; subdued impatience at first, then glares as though you've been lingering at a window table in a crowded upscale restaurant long after your coffee has gone cold, the table cleared of everything but stains and crumbs."
Or this one, which I loved because it describes the book lover so perfectly:
"Like most bookworms I read so as not to be alone, which often annoys those who are trying to make conversation with me."
This is a book that deals with war head on. It pulls no punches, and isn't shy about showing how awful and horrible war is. It's not glamorous. It's not romantic or virtuous or glorious. It's terrible. All of them. Patrick talks about what it is to be a part of something so terrible, and what it is to survive it. This book touched me on so many different levels. It was beautifully written, heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time, and shows us that loss is maybe subjective. If we love someone enough, they are always with us, even when they are not. Originally Reviewed: January 14, 2010

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