Julia has cancer (oh, one of those stories). But she’s a scientist and so she agrees to an experimental treatment. When it doesn’t work, in fact makes her worse, the conventional treatment revives her. But her consultant—consistently called “Mr. Aaronovitch” and so, presumably, not a doctor—wants to try yet another experiment and she agrees. Why the hell does she agree? Given that this is very short story I don’t feel too badly about giving away what happens (yes, that was a SPOILER ALERT): she dies. But not before the story shifts to the consciousness of Byron, Julia’s husband. Byron loved Julia but, it seems, never showed her. In fact, her diaries suggest that she thought he was a jerk. Why the hell did she stay married to him, then? What’s this woman’s problem? For a long time, Byron is miserable (he has a stroke at the funeral?), until he marries a younger woman and is still a jerk. The end.
Huh? So, maybe the point is that Julia was willing to try these experimental treatments because she didn’t care whether she lived or died. She was married to someone incapable of showing his love, and so what kind of life is that? As points go, it’s not satisfying.
There’s some beautiful language here: “Folds, a cape of chlorinated water, gather at her neck as she strokes down the pool in little pulses, touches with two hands together, and turns in an eddy.” I wasn’t familiar with the author, but was not surprised to learn that he is primarily known as a poet. And that, it seems to me, is as it should be.
March 30, 2009: “Julia and Byron” by Craig Raine