Madli Lippur, June/Julien
Tallinn, Tänapäev, 2016. 328 pp
ISBN 9789949850280

Madli Lippur’s highly praised debut June / Julien is a novel about a clearly unorthodox love story: the protagonist is 12 and the man 37 when the events commence. What’s more, they are half-siblings who haven’t seen each other for twelve years, as the man has been raising his own family abroad. It should be obvious from the start that all cannot end well. Or can it?

June / Julien won the publishing house Tänapäev’s 2016 novel competition, and was later awarded the 2017 Betti Alver Award for best debut novel. Lippur took two of the last remaining taboos, pedophilia and incest, and turned them into a tender love story told in clear, simple language. In doing so, she created two very distinct and credible voices: one of a precocious adolescent girl, and the other of a man nearing middle age.

Even if the lovers were conventional, the novel itself would still be quite atypical for Estonian literature, which has very few pure love stories of note, let alone such passionate ones. It’s also relatively uncommon for a piece of Estonian literature to have almost no association with Estonia or Estonians, the only connection being a piece by the composer Lepo Sumera that the protagonists hear at a concert. The characters are mainly French, and most of the story unfolds in Bayeux (the famous tapestry is basically a no-show, mentioned only once in a derogatory swipe at tourists).

Lastly, the novel primarily consists of purportedly handwritten love letters. Since the author once mentioned in an interview that she prefers to write with pen and paper, this comes as no surprise.

In the end, what we have is a story about the greatest love of all; almost a modern fairy tale, but obviously one intended for adults. Fairy tales were originally bloody and perverted, and this makes them all the more beautiful.


Erik Aru (1978) is an Estonian journalist who has been writing literary criticism mostly for Eesti Päevaleht since 2010. He is also a PhD student in economics at University of Tartu.