I know that this type of book is outside of my comfort zone in regards to reviewing, but I've been expanding my reading lists and wanted to include some books that I think are great crossovers for the YA market. With the expanding of New Adult and Mature Young Adult, I can't see ignoring these stories. Especially where all these authors are getting huge publishing deals. Sylvain Reynard is one of them.
I've been hemming and hawing about changing my rating from a 4 to a 5, because I just loved this book so much. It's almost like I've become addicted to Julianne and Gabriel. There is so much about this book that I love and a few things that I don't love.
First off what I love is that it is literate. Julianne Mitchell is studying Dante at the University of Toronto under a Dante specialist, Professor Gabriel Emerson. He is unlike any professor I've ever had. He's sexy, he's angry and he's pretty much sex on a stick. However, Julia has a secret. A secret that has kept her in love with her professor for six years. However, for Julia, Gabriel doesn't remember her and she is crushed. She's had an extremely horrible relationship with a former boyfriend that has left her submissive and broken. Gabriel's and Julia's first meeting goes horribly awry.
Thankfully she has a savior in a Ph.D candidate in Paul Norris who instantly takes a liking to Julia and tries to protect the frightened rabbit. However, when Julia is called to Professor Emerson's office, she is shocked to hear him crying and talking roughly on the phone. Julia leaves a note that explains nothing.
After a brief Emerson absence (his adoptive mother has passed away), things between the two are strained and volatile at best. Gabriel has no clue who Julia is and Julia is not willing to part with her knowledge because this cannot be the person she met and fell in love with when she was 17 years old. It's not until Gabriel's sister, Julia's best friend, arrives and he starts to put some things together. He's already feeling the pull of Julia, but he doesn't understand. She seems familiar to him, but he can't quite recall why.
So here we find out how Julia and Gabriel met all those years ago. Gabriel, still not remembering and for a good reason, is still oblivious to his first meeting with Julia. Six years ago, Julia arrived at the Clark's home invited for dinner. What she walked into was a mess. Rachel was crying into her boyfriend's shoulder, there was blood on the floor and the glass coffee table was smashed. Julia asks what happens, and Rachel informs Julia that Gabriel happened. He got into an argument with his parents and punched and broke his brother's nose. Who was now on the way to hospital. Julia sought out Grace (Gabriel's mother), but instead she found Gabriel on the back porch sucking on a beer. Waxing philosophically, he mentions to Julia that she is an angel sent to save his soul. Beatrice to his Dante. Julia is transfixed by his beauty, his honesty and his degradation. He invites her to go on a walk to an orchard on the property. He is the first person who treats her like a woman and not a teenager. He kisses her, his fondles her, but he never, ever goes that extra step. They spend the night in the orchard wrapped in each other's arms.
Gabriel six years later is hardened, tougher, softer and seeks out pleasures of the flesh. He has a hunting ground that he goes to often to find what will soothe him carnally. A place that Julia despises. She is his angel, yet he still has no clue. It's not until Julia is summoned by the bouncer at the club where Gabriel hunts, that she is once again brought in to save Gabriel. He has been pounding back doubles of scotch and has one of his graduate students precariously close to consummating their relationship. With the University's non-fraternization policy, this would prove deathly to Gabriel's career. So with the help of a bartender, she is able to extract Gabriel from the floozy and get him home. Unfortunately a drunk Gabriel means a flirty Gabriel and he kisses Julia. Then proceeds to throw up on her. She cleans him up, cleans herself up and tends to him. It's when he opens his eyes, looks at Julia and calls her Beatrice that he remembers who she is.
Again, Julia spends the night, chastely, in his arms.
However, the next morning, with a savage hangover and a fairly naked Julia dancing around his apartment (she's wearing his old clothing), he is furious because he feels that he violated her (Julia is a virgin), yet, he still manages to insult and destroy Julia's sense of well-being. It's not until he reads the note that she left on his breakfast tray, as he finally let's her go that he remembers spending the night with Julia all those years ago. To him it was a dream.
Gabriel is damaged goods, yet so is Julia. They are simply made for each other in a way that it could be perfect or destructive. There is one scene in the book that totally blew me away. I love rereading that passage so much. After Gabriel realizes who Julia is, she cuts all contact with him. But she has to attend his seminar if she wants to graduate. When she arrives in his class, he tells her that he needs to speak with her after class, she dismisses him and he takes matters into his own hands. Instead of his original seminar, he will be giving a lecture. A lecture on the second meeting between Beatrice and Dante years after they originally met. Basically, Gabriel is trying to tell Julia what happened and why he didn't remember her. Unfortunately for Gabriel, Julia is angry and the class becomes a hot-headed episode of pure lust and complete jealousy. The class is understandably confused by what is transpiring between Gabriel and his student. He is begging and she is fighting back. She is throwing back all of Dante's sins as he is laying down the gauntlet that Beatrice perhaps never cared enough for Dante. Why should she when Dante would seek any whore he could to bed? And what about a particular one named Paulina? This scene knocked my socks off because the metaphors were flying and nobody knew what the hell was going on. Gabriel and Julia are very much like Dante and Beatrice. Beatrice trying to gather Dante out of hell. But cannot because she is already in paradise and she's not admitted.
After that showing in the seminar, Gabriel and Julia take their relationship further. They are falling in love. However, he is still her professor and she is still a virgin. He will court her and they will not take the relationship any further until after the semester ends. As much as they want each other, they both have secrets that would destroy most relationships and Gabriel refuses to make love to her until she knows everything about him. Of course he is also mortified that he seduced a 17 year old back when he was 27, but he didn't remember Julia because he so strung out on coke that he really did think that what he shared with her was a dream. However, Julia is still angry because he left her alone in the woods the next morning not knowing how to get out of them. What they find was a misunderstanding of sorts, he didn't leave, he went for a piss and a smoke. She thought he'd left. He's only called her Beatrice and never learned her name. Of course his family thought he was crazy when he mentioned meeting Beatrice. From there he went into rehab and then back to Harvard to finish his Ph.D dissertation.
I found some similarities to AS Byatt's Possession and this one. I'm not sure if the author read that book, but there was that same literate quality that I crave from time to time. The writing is superb, the language flows, yes Gabriel can be an ass and yet you want to just hug him and soothe him. Julia can get a bit annoying at times, but she has her reasons. Once she agrees to a relationship with Gabriel she totally blooms. But all is not well with the people around her. Her fellow student Christa Peterson has been trying to bed Gabriel for a while and he refuses to acknowledge her. Paul is falling in love with Julia and she's trying to finish her MA thesis for graduation.
I can't say that this book is overly erotic, but the theme about lust and love and courtly love are full frontal. This is a breathtaking story that will have you humming throughout and searching out various Dante and Beatrice pieces of art. You don't really need a knowledge of The Divine Comedy or Dante's Inferno. It is well explained in the book. I highly recommend this one. It's gorgeous.