Beautifully Written and Executed
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The themes of this story – redemption and healing via the grace of one’s love – are quite important to me, and Gabriel and Julia demonstrate these themes gradually and powerfully. Both romantic leads grow stronger and
softer throughout the story, with Julia leading the way. As the bonds of their relationship strengthen, so too do their internal structures, undergirding their love for each other and themselves.
Julia is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, working on her master’s degree. When the snarky narrator points out how graduate school is its own feudal class system, I had to laugh – so true. As a master’s student, Julia is the serf, and her sweet doctoral student friend Paul is only one small step up the power ladder. As the professor, Gabriel is the master, lording over all with disdain.
Gabriel is so freaking snooty. I loved when he insists on being called “Professor” instead of “Doctor”, since lowly
podiatrists are called “Doctor”. I wonder how he’d feel about lowly psychologists going by “Doctor”, ha ha. It’s amazing how his snobby personality is actually charming, as seen through Julia’s eyes, just like Gabriel adores Julia’s shyness and delicateness. Mr. Reynard really nails how love makes us see the beauty in each other.
My favorite part of the novel is the early interaction between Julia and Gabriel, a true battle between good and evil, culminating in a verbal classroom duel that is magnificent. I can totally picture that classroom scene in a movie.
These are two deeply troubled individuals. As Gabriel tells her, “We both have scars, Julianne. Mine just aren’t on the skin.” (p. 414). (I beg to differ, Gabriel – look at your chest.) Both will try their best to heal those scars, however. Nowhere is Gabriel’s transformation more evident than the change in how he views Julia’s sexuality. At first he mocks her virginity, and his scathing words are so visceral that I also wanted to hide in shame. Toward the end of the novel Gabriel tells her:
“Someone as giving and as passionate as you could never
be terrible at anything sexual. You just need someone who will make you feel safe enough to express yourself. Then the tiger will emerge . . I’ve seen your passion. I’ve felt it. And it’s breathtaking. You
are breathtaking.” (p.403)
Gabriel tries to break free of his bitter outer shell to communicate the true reverence he feels for Julia:
“Of course I want you. Look at you! You’re beautiful and warm and intelligent. You’re forgiving and gentle. You might not realize this, but you bring out those qualities in me. You make me want
to be gentle and kind.” (p.403)
It’s Julia’s forgiveness and clever suggestion for atonement that help Gabriel the most. She tells him:
“But think about the gift you gave Tom – his only daughter. Turn our debt into penance. You are not a devil, you’re an angel. My angel.” (p. 432).
Truly lovely. The novel ends a bit abruptly so I was excited to hear Mr. Reynard is writing the sequel as we speak. I’d like to hurry him along but excellent writing like this can’t be rushed. Bellissima!