My Summer with Julia

Sarah Woodhouse, Author
Sarah Woodhouse, Author Thomas Dunne Books $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-26622-6
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Paperback - 261 pages - 978-0-7862-3028-0
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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. (Feb. 1)
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