2001 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award Winner: When Toronto poet and playwright Michael Redhill published his first novel, Martin Sloane, he made headlines for the novel's long gestation through 12 complete drafts written over 10-plus years. In an age when many blockbuster novels read as though they never saw an editor's pencil, Redhill's stamina and his ruthless self-appraisal were enough to make him newsworthy. But all that attention to its composition raises the basic question about the book itself: was Martin Sloane worth all the effort?
As it turns out, Redhill's first novel is an intense, poetic evocation of the experience of time and place and the personality of a fictional Irish-Canadian collage artist, Martin Sloane, whose work, if not his life, resembles the nostalgic boxes built by the real-life sculptor Joseph Cornell. Told through the voice of his abandoned lover Jolene Iolas, who had a relationship with the older man in her youth, the story explores the connection between Sloane's life and his art. Iolas ends up following the cold trail of his life back to Dublin, where he lived as boy before he was exiled by illness and first began to pack up his life in little boxes: "Martin kept his eyes open only slightly and let the layers of time and memory swim down into the street. His whole life. His whole life had happened here, against these buildings, against these streets, and he was leaving it." Redhill has created a powerful meditation on life and memory, and his work as a poet stands him in good stead. Even if some of the characters are not quite fully realized and the narrative transitions at times a little rough, Martin Sloane proves that hard work pays off. Long live revision. --Robyn Gillam
Martin Sloane, the protagonist of Redhill's elegant debut, is an Irish-born Canadian who makes dioramas from "found objects." Among these chanced-upon entities is the book's narrator herself, Jolene Iolas, a Bard undergrad who happens upon Martin's work and falls in love with the artist. Their affair lasts several years, until one day Martin purposefully and inexplicably vanishes. Achingly sweet in its execution, the novel explores what it means to love, as we follow a dual narrative: Jolene's attempt to recover after Martin disappears, and Martin's own childhood memories of Ireland, as retold by Jolene. "It's not really safe to love other people, is it?" asks Jolene's former college roommate Molly, in Ireland years later to help Jolene track Martin down. Redhill's book reminds us that love can be half imaginary. even Jolene's recollections of Martin's childhood must pass through the lens of Martin's inventiveness: one story that Martin tells Jolene and Molly is proven a lovely fabrication. Then, too, our sense of love is shaped by our own desire. In a surprise ending, Jolene visits someone who asks for information about Martin, to which Jolene responds: "Whatever I tell you about him will just end up being about myself." A memorable and satisfying read, Redhill's book leaves the reader with a child's sense of nostalgia and a sympathy for the impasses of adulthood.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.