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Martin Sloane    by Michael Redhill order for
Martin Sloane
by Michael Redhill
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Martin Sloane is a mysterious artist, loved and lost by the narrator, a steadfast young woman who tries to make sense of the havoc that he has wreaked on her life. The action takes place in Indiana, in Toronto, Canada and in Ireland. At Bard College, young Jolene Iolas rooms with Molly Hudson, they complement each other and become best friends. Then, at a sculpture expo in Toronto, Jolene falls in love with a work of art, and eventually with the artist, Martin Sloane.

Martin makes 'boxes with glass fronts behind which some antic arrangement of things gave off a feeling of intense nostalgia'. Each chapter is introduced by a description of one of his works, which bears some relationship to events described. The author writes with empathy, as in 'we continued to learn the other like explorers expanding their maps of the known world.' Indeed this tale starts off as a quirky but endearing love story between a young student and the older man, whose creations, mirroring his life, are full of subtle secrets.

Their relationship settles into a five year, mostly long-distance relationship, with Martin maintaining his apartment in Toronto, and their living together for brief periods at Jolene's home in Bloomington. Then Molly visits, meeting Martin for the first time, in a strange encounter. Jolene later feels that its 'awkward moments had bled across my memory like a stain.' Soon after Molly's departure, Martin disappears from Jolene's life, and she also loses her best friend. Ten years later, when Jolene has reinvented her life, a surprise communication draws her across the ocean to Ireland, where she investigates her lost lover's past, in an attempt to solve the cold case of his disappearance.

This story stretches the suspense to a point that would normally tax a reader's patience, but it is written so beautifully that one goes with the flow. There are insightful flashbacks to both Jolene's and Martin's childhoods, which shed some light on events, though much remains ambiguous. Overall, Martin Sloane is a most unusual presentation of the fragility of love, of the uncertainty in our ability to understand a loved one, and of the strength of the mould into which our childhood pours us.

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