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Martin Sloane

by Michael Redhill

Michael Redhill’s first novel is the story of a young woman, Jolene, who, while attending college in upstate New York, is attracted to the work of an Irish-Canadian artist, the eponymous Martin Sloane. Jolene contrives to meet Martin. They have a romance. He is much older. He is secretive. Furthermore, he insists they maintain not just separate residences but different countries. Even with all these impediments, their love evolves. Then, one night, Martin vanishes without a trace.

Jolene is devastated. She moves to Toronto and rebuilds her life. Then one day, 10 years later, she receives word from an estranged friend, Molly, that Martin – or evidence of Martin – has turned up in Dublin. Jolene goes to Ireland to join her friend, hoping to put several old ghosts to rest.

A synopsis makes Martin Sloane sound like a song by the Rankins, but it is in fact a complex and, by and large, satisfying novel. Redhill is a very good writer, with a wide-ranging mind and an elegant turn of phrase. He has a keen eye for physical and emotional detail, and he’s housed his mystery in an engaging narrative structure. The one clanking note in Martin Sloane is struck by the relationship between Molly and Jolene. It never, at any stage, makes emotional or practical sense. As a pair, they’re like a couple of sponges with little vibrancy and a gift for not much more than self-absorption. When they’re together, you just want to slap them.

That said, there is much to recommend here. Good endings are almost impossible, and this one is terrific. And the latter sections that describe Sloane’s childhood – especially a Bloom-like walk around Dublin – are ravishing. I suspect that a smarter reader than I will find all kind of deft allusions throughout, and I don’t doubt that one of the parlour games of the spring publishing season will be guessing if Martin Sloane is anagram and, if so, of what. “Later onanism” and “Mister Alanon,” while appealing, are probably not correct. All told, this is an engaging read, and a polished first time out for this poet turned novelist.