I must confess – when I picked up this book I did something I don’t normally do – I read the author’s note in the back first and I’m so glad that I did. The postscript written in September 2018 particularly struck me: ‘On Saturday 12 May, I placed in John’s unsteady 89-year-old hands an advance review copy of The Julian Calendar. I was overcome with immeasurable relief; John just beamed. He was content. He knew this book would again change my life. He knew it had already changed his. Eleven days later, on a chilly Wellington evening, and only minutes after I had kissed his forehead and whispered suggestions for the sweetest of dreams, John died. An angel heading home…’ It made me cry then in anticipation of a novel that might change my life, and makes me tearful now, knowing that it has.
‘To own a beautiful new book is a tactile treat. The smooth feel of the jacket, the firmness of the hard cover, the quality of the paper, all make the fingers move over the book and seek out more messages than the words themselves can provide. The next best thing is to give such a book to someone who you know will appreciate it in just these ways.’ (page 173). This certainly is one such book, one such reading experience that I am grateful to have received to review, and I cannot easily compare it with any other.
Set in a period of history before mobile phones were everywhere, and before social media sites came to both join us and also disconnect us from real life, The Julian Calendar commences at the official start of the English Summer, June 1992. Daniel Jamieson is a heart-broken kiwi twenty-something looking for distraction in London, while Julian Marriot is a sixty-something classical music loving ex-patriot looking for companionship (whether he’d admit to that or not). The world is a place still reeling from the discovery and deaths of the horrific AIDS epidemic that began to sweep the world in the 1980s. Julian has watched friends wither and disappear from his life. When Daniel turns up at his door, an old university friend of his nephew’s, he is both nervous and attracted by the young man. What ensues over the length of the book is the blossoming of a friendship that despite sexual persuasion and forty-year age gaps, ever deepens, aided by the sharing of books and music between them.
This work is beautiful, the journey of two men (Simon Hertnon and John Henry Garmonsway), with two viewpoints, released under one made-up authorial name, William Henry. It is a kind of fictional record of the writer’s own experiences, twenty-five years in the making. That’s right, this book took twenty-five years to put out, and it is clear that the twenty-five years it took to write, re-write and edit were not spent idly. The two voices entwine wonderfully, giving complexity to the characters and to their wonderings about the friendship between them. The question is posed, ‘what is love and who can share it?’ Can a loving friendship between two men exist and flourish when one of them is heterosexual and the other is not? There are no boring moments here, every scene had me wrapped up in their world as if it were my own, or rather, as if I were somehow a part of their experience. When Daniel was bogged down in longing for the wrong woman I was right there with him, and when Julian gave his advice full of wisdom, I felt like I learned with Daniel too.
Then of course, there was the music. The book literally dripped with it. So I was pleased to discover that a soundtrack has been put together to go with the novel. You can find the playlist on Spotify under the title William Henry: The Julian Calendar. I thoroughly recommend downloading and listening to it while you read. It certainly heightens the experience of prose that flows like the poetry of music.
I feel blessed to have read this book and shared this experience. If I could, I would buy the whole world this well-written novel. So help me out readers of good kiwi fiction – go out and get a copy yourself. You can find or request The Julian Calendar from any good bookstore.. As ‘love will be my ink’ too, I promise you will not be disappointed.
Review by Penny M Geddis
The Julian Calendar
by William Henry
Publisher: Marsilio Press