August, the first book in Woodward's Aldous Jones trilogy, introduces the Jones family in 1955, when Aldous Rex Llewellyn Jones and his wife Colette are a happy, young married couple with two young children. By 1970, the family, now numbering four children, is facing a series of crises, many of their own making. Author Gerard Woodward, an author who captures scenes and thoughts in unusually vibrant prose filled with unique images and observations, focuses on the domestic life of this family and its interactions, both within the family and within their social milieu.
During the fifteen years of this novel, the Jones family vacations during the month of August in a tent on farmer Hugh Evans's farm in Llanygwynfa, Wales, each chapter representing a different year in the family's life. Life in the tent becomes a microcosm for Woodward's careful examination of family dynamics and change, as the inner lives of the characters are explored in detail. Aldous is an artist and teacher whose education has been subsidized by Lesley Waugh, the brother of Colette, whom Aldous eventually marries. Colette is the primary care giver for Nana, her (and Lesley's) senile mother. Since her siblings feel unable to care for their mother, Colette sometimes has difficulty escaping for a vacation, and on one occasion, she is forced to put her mother into a nursing home.
Janus Jones, Aldous and Colette's eldest son, is brilliant, a boy who eventually develops into a talented student at the Royal Academy of Music. Despite his talent, he remains unsure of his long-term career path. His traumas, his lack of confidence, and his uncertainty about his sexuality color the family dynamics throughout much of the novel, leading to innumerable confrontations. The other children--James, Juliette, and young Julian, sixteen years younger than Janus--pretty much fend for themselves during the crises, occasionally creating issues of their own. Colette escapes into her own world. Ultimately, Aldous must decide whether to continue to vacation in farmer Evans's field or whether that phase of their family life is over.
The novel differs from most other studies of dysfunctional families because the writing is so compelling--filled with thoughtful descriptions, unique imagery, and careful observations, every word perfect. And even though the focus is firmly domestic, without much focus on the world at large (except as the family represents universal problems of all families), Woodward wields his pen like a stiletto, cutting to the quick and exposing the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters, often with dark humor. While the final novel of the trilogy, A Curious Earth: A Novel, contains much more wry humor and often comes close to being laugh-out-loud funny, August introduces the characters, makes them "real," and firmly establishes Woodward as one of the premier prose stylists writing today. n Mary Whipple
I'll Go to Bed at Noon: A Novel