This year I’ve decided to challenge myself to read a new book every week – and write about it a little bit here. I hope to touch on a variety of books – old and new, long and short, fiction and non-fiction – and maybe discover some new favourites. Week 22… Julius Winsome (2006) by Gerard Donovan
Julius Winsome is not your standard novel. Unlike a lot of books I’ve reviewed recently – such as The Silence of the Lambs – it isn’t that heavy on plot and doesn’t really have many twists. Its cast is tiny, with there only being one character that we spend an extended amount of time with. It doesn’t easily fit with narrative theories such as Field or Propp, and just seems to do its own thing. And that’s why it’s great.
Julius lives in the middle of the woods, in his father’s old cabin, with no one for company but his dog, Hobbes. One day he discovers his dog dead, murdered with a shotgun. Julius sets out to discover who murdered Hobbes and to exact his revenge.
I seem to stress the importance of story quite a lot in these reviews, but this book works incredibly well despite the simplicity of its plot; a guy’s dog gets shot, he tries to get revenge. The novel demonstrates the importance of how a story is told and presented. You could have the finest plot ever written, but if you don’t present it well, then… I went into this book wondering how Donovan would be able to keep such a simple plot going for 200 pages. What complications would he introduce? Would the story end up going somewhere completely different from where it started? But the story doesn’t really change. It’s the fact that the author is able to keep it powerful all the way through that’s really impressive.
The novel meanders quite a lot, but that’s probably the best thing about it. As I progressed through it, it became apparent that the book is less about working out who killed Hobbes, but how the whole incident affects the protagonist. The majority of the novel is filled with anticipation – anticipation for who the killer is and anticipation for what Julius is going to do next. The long scenes when the protagonist sits in his cabin alone, reflecting on his thoughts, becoming more paranoid, are the novel’s strongest. We spend so much time in Julius’s head, journeying through his memories, that it almost becomes claustrophobic. Donovan favours quality over quantity when it comes to characters; Julius is as developed and complex as they come. He gets built up through the sort of small, odd details that make us human – such as his relationship with his grandfather’s gun and his vast knowledge of Shakespeare’s words. The author avoids painting Julius with broad strokes, instead favouring narrow, intimate ones.
The other characters are less developed – by quite a lot – but I guess that’s what Donovan was going for. The majority of the novel is filtered through Julius’s point of view, so all other characters are viewed through his eyes. The majority of them are strangers to him – people who may have killed his dog – and he isn’t interested in getting to know anything about them. Claire, the person that Julius is most familiar with, is someone we never really get to know either. Despite all the time he spent with her in the past, the novel suggests that he may not have really known her at all. Everyone is a stranger to him.
I found the novel to be a great diversion from some of the more intense, hard-to-follow books I’ve been reading lately. Though the stakes seem incredibly low – finding a dog’s killer – emotionally they’re incredibly high. Julius Winsome demonstrates that it’s how you tell a story that’s most important.