Is she complicit in the abuse of her husband and this – unfortunately and embarrassed – a middle-aged white woman?

Julia May Jonas: “I’m allergic to books in which the narrator is always right.”

on the cover Vladimir Male torso slightly hairy. Admittedly, the model’s hand rests suggestively on a covered crotch. The Dutch library seemed to struggle with this when the brochures for publisher De Geus: A Naked Man on the Cover were aired.

A playful reason, but at the same time a sad act by the marketing team of the publishing house. “Preliminary copies”, as they are called in the book trade – a book already sent, but not yet released in its final version. On the cover, next to the Native American photograph, are three novels published in the Netherlands with women’s breasts covered or not. and the text: “These women are already in your store. Would you add this nice guy too?”

Julia May Jonas puts her hand over her mouth when she sees the replacement cap through the zoom link. “Wow! That’s cool! Makes me realize how many books I’ve read with a naked woman on the cover without even thinking about it for a second. We’re conditioned in a weird way. We take female nudists as background. And this guy isn’t even naked. It’s time we looked at that masculine around.” !”

unusual sound

That’s what Jonas, a playwright and teacher at Skidmore College in New York state, does in a multi-layered and highly sophisticated way in her first novel, which hit the English-speaking world like a bombshell. The narrator alone is an extraordinary voice: a 58-year-old college teacher of English literature unpainted He is presented as the cowardly little girl of all time who adored old men.

Which, in the indomitable desire that seized her, feels perhaps more like an old man than a middle-aged white woman in her fifties, “an identity which, alas, to my great embarrassment, I must display.” Because, she says, older people are driven by their own desires. And the whole world is made up of their desires. They don’t know which world isn’t entirely motivated by the idea of ​​wanting and having.

sexual violence

The narrator himself has such an old man – in a marriage made by two leading academics like Overcoat. An open marriage, too, she once suggested, so she wouldn’t be fooled if her husband was accused of sexual assault. After years of relationships he has forged with his students, the narrator is especially amazed at how consensual sex in the MeToo era suddenly becomes an abuse of power – wasn’t her husband’s strength the reason these girls were drawn to him in the first place?

But her image is slowly tilting. Her students had already called her to ask for order by that time: they demanded a stand against her husband, get rid of the guy – otherwise she is complicit. Meanwhile, her obsession with a new teacher grows, and she becomes young, beautiful, and more successful as a writer than she is. And receptive to her mother’s charm. Vladimir, because the references to Vladimir Nabokov are innumerable.

Your narrator will “will”, like old men. And you want to get, while also knowing jokes about older women with lust: “Horny, flabby dogs with hanging lobes of skin.” What is your starting point for this novel?

‘Which – which men stare What we were just talking about was at least the germ. A narrator, who has long considered himself a potentially sexual object, suddenly sees himself through Vladimir’s eyes. As a woman, how do you relate to lust as you get older? In a world still dominated by pleasing men? Men often don’t care how they look, they do. They want cake, they eat cake. And they don’t wonder what they think of the cake.”

You are so much younger than yourself, how did you empathize with your narrator?

“I am 41 but I have anticipated many of my fears and insecurities on her. I hope that when I reach her age I will become wiser. I always think that older women are wiser when it comes to their bodies and self-image. No? But the situation with her husband and how she turns towards Vladimir is compounded of self-loathing lurking in them. Self-confidence and self-esteem often remain fluctuating among us humans.”

The narrator is witty and fortunately also has a lot of self-loathing as well as self-loathing. She’s also vicious and arrogant – but you also know how to portray her weakness.

I wanted a narrator like Humbert Humbert of Nabokov lolita, who stubbornly clings to his account of how he was “tempted”, into his case by a 12-year-old girl. This is how the book was also read when it was published, Lolita was the seductress. Nabokov was not happy about this, he always said: “That’s not what I wrote.” Now we see Humbert Hubert of the unreliable narrator.”

lolita It is a terrifying book, a dark story about obsession and how it can plunge you into destruction. I’m drawn to these kinds of stories – how when you’re in the middle of them you start creating your own facts. I wanted to transfer Humbert Humbert’s narrow-mindedness to a woman, but I didn’t want to turn her into a monster like him. A woman of attractiveness and good will, but also of hateful qualities.”

“I wanted to write it in such a way that you, as a reader, can’t get attached to anything. It’s weak and strong, sometimes right and often not. Look at John Updike and Philip Roth and how much moral ambiguity their middle-aged male protagonists are. But we often don’t see the women.” At this age in novels. If they’re there, they’re either too moral or totally corrupt – the virgin/bitch syndrome.”

Did you also write your book as a commentary on the MeToo movement? Because it is through your narrator’s thought process that many pros and cons emerge – a minefield.

“I never write in response to anything. But I’m allergic to books where the narrator is always right. Yes, of course developments in recent years and how our perception of sexually inappropriate behavior has changed is an important part of the story. That’s also why I wanted A woman much older than me. I grew up at a time when the most important thing to preserve was your virginity. Sex was part of her liberation.”

“And I actually have a different perception of relationships in a position of power than those of my students. I didn’t experience this personally, but when I was in college there were students who had a relationship with a teacher and we all found this very exciting. We all have to navigate within the structures of power that are still dominated by men. I let her go down slowly with my hero, her understanding is developing.”

“But the biggest problem right now is that we have an uncontrollable desire to express our opinion so instantly and consistently on social media that everything becomes argumentative, rather than allowing ourselves to be convinced of how complicated things are. That’s why I also wanted to write a book , to dig into this without specifying the number of characters. Yes, social media has helped put MeToo on the map. Yes, MeToo has cleaned up workspaces. But we don’t yet know if it’s a Band-Aid or a real turnaround. It’s still happening – and which Someone with a lot of money or a lot of power can still get away with a lot.”

Julia May Jonas
Translated by Engy Peters
De Geus, €23.99
304 pages

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