Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review: Seeing Julia

By Becky Gulc

"Seeing Julia," by Katherine Clare Owen, is a story about one woman’s journey through grief. Julia Hamilton has experienced the loss of loved ones too many times in her life. When we first meet Julia, as readers we don’t know whether she can take anymore, she doesn’t know herself. Julia’s parents died in a helicopter accident when she was 16, only a few years later her beloved fiancé, Bobby, is killed in Afghanistan. Fast-forward a few years and we join Julia as she is 27 old and now burying her husband, Evan, the father of her baby, Reid.

The story ultimately centres on how Julia copes with this grief, the "after," and we are told this through a first person perspective. Evan’s best friend Jake is thrown into the mix which adds a whole load of complications for Julia. Jake and Julia clearly have a connection, which is immediately apparent following events after the funeral; he even ends up saving her life. But who is he? And can Julia even contemplate loving again?

Whatever the connection Julia soon leaves New York with her two best friends Kimberley and Stephanie for Paris, to try and escape the memories and come to terms with yet another loss. With Evan’s business hanging over her however, and the involvement of her friends in sustaining this business, sooner or later Julia is going to have to face reality and go home. Jake is driving the business too, so she can’t escape him either!

I found this book to be immediately captivating. Yes it’s a dark sad subject but I was gripped. I was instantly impressed by Katherine’s writing, she conveyed the initial grief and despair at yet another loss so well, I felt this loss with her. The initial chapters reminded me of Maggie O’Farrell’s "After You’d Gone," that’s how impressed I was.

I enjoy a good emotional read and this fits the bill. The book avoids being too overly depressing thanks to the support networks Julia has in place, she has the best friends seeing her through it and they would drop anything for her. So unlucky in some respects, so lucky in others. Although Julia feels very alone in her grief, as a reader you know just how much she is enveloped in love and you hope that love will be enough to see her come through it.

I didn’t quite comprehend Julia’s immediate "connection" with Jake considering she was at her husband’s funeral when they meet, but that all becomes clearer and conceivable as the novel develops. Jake’s fiancé also throws a few interesting spanners into the works, adding intriguing plot lines within the story.

The story has scenes in New York, Paris and L.A. I developed a real sense of each of these settings through Katherine’s rich description, especially of the homes by the sea.

My criticisms would be that I found the constant references to the "inner circle," rather than "friends," a bit tiresome, as well as the references to "seeing" people, e.g. "you don’t see me." These would be fine in moderation, but I felt they were a little over-played. There were also a few words missing from the text here and there, but not a significant issue. I also always felt like the character was older than the 27 years she was meant to be, maybe in her early to mid-thirties, but that’s just how it felt to me. I also found the cover a little old-fashioned; I didn’t feel this about the story itself and I wonder if this cover would appeal to a broad-spectrum of readers.

Overall, I would recommend this to people who enjoy a good emotional story which is character-driven. There is enough substance in the surrounding story to make you wonder and not guess what is coming. The secrets are unveiled at the right moments and stop the novel being too consumed with Julia’s internal-dialogue over her grief, which is naturally important to the story, but could have become a little tiresome if it wasn’t for the intriguing sub-plot. I think Julia will be one of those characters that stays in my mind for a while. 

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Sandy said...

I just finished this book yesterday and as a widow myself I can say the feelings that Julia had are point on! I was amazed that a fictional character was able to so perfectly describe the emotional roller coaster that is widowhood.

Barbara Silkstone said...

This is a lovely book. Thank you for sharing this review with us.