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A fairytale detective storyMartin SloaneMichael RedhillHeinemann 999 pp272This first novel comes with an endorsement from Michael Ondaatje and it is no surprise that the author of The English Patient found much in it to admire Michael Redhill shares with his Canadian compatriot a gift for studied lyricism a complex kind of emotional intelligence and most of all a poets understanding of the workings of time Redhills narrative glides gently in and out of present and past and builds into a powerful meditation on the implications of memory and the vacancies opened up by the loss of loveA young college student in upstate New York Jolene writes to a middle-aged artist whose work she discovers and admires The artist Martin Sloane writes back and when they eventually meet they find in each other all the things their letters allowed them to hope for Over five years their relationship becomes one of remarkable intimacy Jolene becomes Martins muse and she slowly tries to open up in him the secrets of a past he seems to want to shield from himselfMartins art fetishises this personal history His work is reminiscent of Joseph Cornells discomfiting little boxes of ticky tacky - a debt which the author acknowledges in a note He makes intricate miniatures full of discreet references to childhood hurts little model interiors which half reveal a tiny boy at the top of a lonely staircase surrounded by treasured objects a childs jewellery box which when opened reveals a half-alligator half-ballerina turning under a parasol a perfect honeycomb pierced by a single shaft of light to reveal an imprisoned fairy princess at its centre As their love develops Jolene who lost her own mother in a car crash as a child tries to piece together the story that has made Martin Sloane and his art what they have becomeAs she seems to be getting closer to these secrets however one night he gets up from their bed walks
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