We first meet the unnamed narrator of Vladimir as she reminisces about how she enjoyed spending time around and receiving attention from older men when she was a child. It’s a discomfiting statement that pretty perfectly sets up what sort of character she will turn out to be. Now a 58-year-old English professor, she finds her life upset when her husband, the head of her department, is caught up in a scandal. The two have long been in an open relationship, free to have whatever dalliances they chose, so she isn’t surprised to learn of the many students with which he became involved, but she wasn’t aware of just how predatory many of them felt his behavior to be. That said, he didn’t do anything illegal, and she doesn’t really start to question whether or not she should support him until her own students and coworkers and even her adult daughter begin to make her feel like she ought to be.
As this is going on, a new, younger professor (the titular Vladimir) has been brought on after having published a critically-lauded novel, along with his wife with whom he appears to have a somewhat strained relationship. Our narrator feels immediately drawn to him and finds herself trying to find ways to spend time alone together, ultimately hatching a rather extreme plot to do so. As everything occurring around her blends in her head with her growing desire and worries over her age she starts to feel more than a little unhinged.
She is easily one of the most fascinating characters put to print in recent memory. We are treated to her strong opinions as she ponders sex, love, family, aging, and generational differences. She has some controversial ideas and sometimes contradicts herself, which serves to make her feel more real. Told in smoothly elegant prose, it is always a joy to read her story, even at its ugliest moments and the sharp observations about people as a whole are bound to make almost any reader feel seen at some point. The ending feels a little too abrupt but is still fitting for the tone of the book. This is one that will leave you thinking, and possibly attempting some serious self-reflection. ★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor