I love this book. There, I said it. If it were possible, I would leave the review at just that.
It's been a long time since I've spoken so passionately about a book that at least five people bought it after a lunch or meeting with me. Or that I've talked about a novel's characters as if they were old friends. Or that I've dog-eared so many pages I have some folded both ways because there were lines on both sides that I wanted to remember. I own the paperback; I want the hardcover. If you are a friend of mine and have a birthday or special event anytime soon, you can guess your gift.
The story couldn't be simpler. Patrick lives in a nursing home. He's in his eighties and spends his days reflecting on his life with honesty, acceptance and regret. Most of his memories focus on a woman named Julia, the fiance of his World War I buddy, Daniel.
A large part of the story is about the war, the Great War that forced Patrick to grow up and face the ugly side of life while he was still a boy. Contrasting the starkingly haunting images --- of bodies blown apart, barbed wire and destruction --- and the raw words --- about the smell, the sounds and the taste of war --- is Daniel's almost poetic prose about Julia and his love for her. He writes her from the trenches and savors the letters she writes in return. And he talks endlessly to Patrick about her. In a place where life is so ugly, Julia becomes a symbol of hope: the one beautiful thing.
After Daniel dies, Patrick meets Julia at a war memorial service and begins a relationship that lasts days --- and a lifetime.
Patrick spins his tale knowing he is in his final days. Cancer is eating away at him, but so are thoughts of Julia that he needs closure on. Sounds sad? It isn't. Patrick has the humor of a man who knows he's old but doesn't feel that way. His is an earned realism; he knows what he needs to do before he moves on.
LOSING JULIA is about love and losing it. At some moments, readers will wonder if it was ever there, or if loving Julia was something Patrick so fiercely needed that to let the feeling slip away would be unspeakable. Readers could debate if this was love or fantasy, or if love like this could be real. But one thing is certain --- feelings for Julia fueled Patrick's entire life.
Where Hull takes the story in the end is either overly contrived and too neat or just the way it needed to wrap. My sister, who encouraged me to read this book, loathed the ending. I cried my way through it --- but I was always the more emotional of the two of us.
Finishing a book I love this much is doubly painful. Not only do I miss being under its spell, everything else I read pales by comparison. But a book like this also keeps me searching, because I hope I can find something this good to share with other readers.
But first....I urge you to read LOSING JULIA.
Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald on February 6, 2001