Juno and Juliet
is the delightful debut novel from Irishman Julian Gough
. It feels like an easily written memoir, narrated with light, self-mocking humor by Juliet Taylor. Leaving home, (Tipperary
,) for the first time, to attend the University of County Galway
, Juliet is not utterly alone, as she is with her identical twin Juno.
Once in Galway, the girls face typical issues that arise once having left home for the first time. Finding lodgings, meeting new people, settling into routine in a strange city. For some reason Juliet has always believed Juno to be the cleverer, more beautiful, more charming sister; now Juliet begins growing into her glorious own.
’I'd always felt I was the wrong shape for the town I was born into, scuffing my cramped and awkward way through childhood, catching myself on the snags of the town as I desperately tried to grow up without damaging myself too badly, choking on claustrophobia and ducking low expectations in a town with a tripwire for a horizon.’
This is not really the typical identity issue you read about identical twins. Or: it is, but Gough makes it seem like more, or about something else. Juno and Juliet are close, and the issue here appears to stem from within Juliet, as opposed to external factors in which people always confuse them and consider them homogeneous.
Gough, a male, is extremely convincing in Juliet's slightly acerbic yet engaging voice. In short snappy chapters that keep you moving right along, the novel recreates colorful details of university life: inspiring/dull lectures, quirky students, independence, drugs, alcohol, and sex. Even as the twins attract various men as suitors, as well as a worrisome stalker, Juliet remains relatively serene and intelligent sounding throughout.
A novel of academia, Juno and Juliet quietly weaves a literary focus into its comic tale, and Gough’s Ireland is a place you actually long to visit. The men are chivalrous, witty; even the bad guys are generous, if pathetic. When people get drunk in this novel, they have a good time; Juliet’s acid trip, however, is a slightly less pleasant but wonderfully described experience. The minutest details, such as the rain or a painting on the wall, are cleanly delineated, simple and beautiful: there's a lot to be said for happiness, and the author here offers us a dazzling defense of joy. Still: it is not naïve – Gough is terrific at exposing idiosyncracies of people.
The book brings back all the freedom, fear and disappointments that made your life as a student. What it was like to study when you doubting you're capable of it, when procrastination is a word etched on your heart, for example:
"Every change in the fluorescent lights, every crack of a fresh page turning, every whisper between distant friends ten tables away whipped my attention into a towering, helpless foam. The door to the stairs banged, and my thoughts jangled like cutlery dropped on concrete. Just another week to go, nothing done."
Again – his language: Juliet’s mild amusement with goings-on. His almost visual descriptions.
The fact that Juno and Juliet turns out to be happy, optimistic, and funny? No surprise. And no spoiler – this knowledge carries you calmly through some more hectic parts of the narrative, a stabilizing thought in the back of yr mind.
It is not imperative that you run to the bookstore to find this novel, no. But: should you happen to spy it on the shelf, read it. Please. It is good enough. It is more than good enough.