- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st U.S. ed edition (December 13, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312266227
- ISBN-13: 978-0312266226
- Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,992,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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My Summer with Julia Hardcover – December 13, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
A mysterious childhood drama involving two English schoolgirls is revisited years later in Woodhouse's (Meeting Lily) serenely crafted, atmospheric novel. First-person protagonist Annie Somerville is a portrait painter settled into her mid-40s and her life of predicable rhythms in the English countryside with her grumpily endearing lawyer husband and two good-natured teenage children. A letter arrives to disturb the tranquility of their lives: Annie's childhood friend, Julia, has died suddenly in a car accident, and she has left Annie a box, though Annie hasn't heard from her since they parted coldly as teens. Why would Julia have remembered Annie 30 years later, and what is in the box? By deliberate, intriguing degrees, Annie unravels the events of the last summer the girls spent together on holiday in France with Julia's elegant, elusive mother. Prodded by her family, the reluctant and sensible Annie retrieves the box; all the while Woodhouse carefully layers details of time and place so that the reader is never sure which clues to follow: Annie's portrait-in-progress of a girl at a piano brings up difficult memories of her own childhood --and Julia's. As in her previous novels, Woodhouse demonstrates her ease with characterization, in part because she allows the players to reveal themselves at their own pace in the comings and goings of daily routine. Annie and everyone within her sphere of gentle observation--especially husband David, and her vituperative Dutch agent, Wim--are utterly realized. "Part of being grown up is knowing which memories to leave undisturbed," Annie muses, yet neither she nor the reader willingly relinquishes them in Woodhouse's beguiling exploration of the sinuous meeting of art and life.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Annie, 45, a painter "full of light and Pergolesi," just as she describes her studio, gets a letter announcing that her friend Julia has left her a box. Annie hasn't heard from Julia since they were teenagers and is astonished to find that the friend of her youth is dead. Annie unravels the collection of memories in letters and photographs and trinkets in the box, which she picks up from Julia's French in-laws, unwrapping sorrow as she goes. The mystery of Julia's life and death titillates, but the further pleasures of this tale lie in luscious evocations of place, light, water, and the scent of the air; in Annie's fierce, offhand tenderness for her teenage children; and in her sparring delight in her husband of many years. Woodhouse writes exquisitely about the making of art--how it feels to get it right and wrong, how the making of it is as necessary as air. The emotional tone is lush with feeling and spare with judgment. GraceAnne DeCandido
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At the urging of her family, Annie agrees to travel to France to reclaim the box, where she learned that Julia and her husband had died in an auto accident when Julia was driving on a winding, mountainous road near their home. Annie waits until she returns home to open the box, and finds it filled with a collection of letters and postcards, and a few bedraggled pieces of jewelry. She doesn't know why Julia wanted her to have these items, and can't bring herself to investigate the contents of the box at once.
Annie forces herself to remember the events of the last summer that she spent with Julia's family in France, which culminated in the tragic drowning death of Julia's mother. Annie and Julia were both 14 that summer, and were best friends but Julia was often unhappy and sulky and disappeared to be by herself for hours. Annie was just beginning to discover her love of art, and Julia seemed jealous of her talent and aspirations.
Annie is haunted by the memories of that summer, which come gradually back into focus as she sifts through the memorabilia in the box and tries to remember the girl that Julia was and imagine the woman that she became. She is distracted and unable to focus on her work or her family. She attempts to paint a portrait of Julia, but can't seem to bring her into focus. As her troubling memories sharpen, she is finally able to complete the portrait and understand what happened to Julia and why her letters were never answered.
This small book is a gem, intriguing in its simplicity, yet rich in detail.
This book started out really slow, and several times I almost put it down. Give it a chance, though. Once you get into the meat of the story, you will be riveted and anxious to find out just what it is that happened with Julia that so disturbs Annie.
This was a very good story, and I am anxious to read more of Sarah Woodhouse's books.