This is one of the four books I purchased through a 'buy-one-take-one' bargain sale when I took a sabbatical leave from college to explore my options. My attention was caught by the reviews and summary at the back, as well as the eye-catching mysterious cover. Intrigued, I bought it and managed to finish it within the day. The thing about bargain books is you have no expectations whatsoever pertaining to the material you're about to read so I'm always careful with the stuff I buy from thrift stores. Luckily for me, Martin Sloane was as beautiful as a book could get, written with such melodious prose that the reading experience that entailed it just flows through the senses.
An impressionable college student Jolene has admired a middle-aged artist (the titular character) and decided to exchange mail correspondences with him. After writing each other letters, they finally meet and start a relationship. Jolene then becomes Martin's muse, and she unknowingly shone light to some questionable parts of Martin's life that he was forced to forget and get away from. In reflection of his personal history and chaos, Martin Sloane creates intricate miniatures inside boxes which are filled with references to his childhood woes. They were stunningly described by the author that I could really picture what's within every box.
As their love deepens, Jolene tries to understand better why Martin and his art are the way they are. But one night, without any explanation, he gets up from the bed and leaves her for good. The novel then becomes Jolene's tell-all quest to find her lost lover again which took her over ten years. In that expanse, she travels to Toronto where Martin Sloane lived, and then ends up in Ireland, where he grew up. Jolene uses the pieces of art Martin gave her before he disappeared. But the more she puts together remnants of Martin's life, the more she realizes how much you can never truly know people no matter how much you love them and want to connect with them.
Redhill's novel was, in theory, a detective story. But the prose has a more sentimental tone than that of the logical; readers are invited to experience the burden of one's memories, and that oftentimes some of the events we have experienced in the past are not always accurate or worth remembering. Martun Sloane's tale is that of an echo for every loss we had at one point in our lives, and the stubborn ways we try to preserve memories and the feelings that they inspire. The metaphorical significance of Martin Sloane's art pieces is overpowering both for Jolene and the reader, guiding the journey as well as dismantling us with every transient glimpse at Martin's mind space.
This is a haunting novel that offers no resolution, mirroring how real life can be without meaning or finality, especially when it comes to the complexities of human experience. The passages in the books are some of the strongest and vivid descriptions I've ever read, and they often leave me distraught and helpless as I too try to stare into the abyss of my life and wonder if my story ever mattered to anyone; and even if it did, the interpretation would still be subjective, dependent on the outsider's perspective and own set of experiences.
Martin Sloane invites us to question the way we love and hurt each other; the ways we try to assign meaning in everything that is, in the grand of scheme of things, eventually irrelevant. The novel seeks to make us probe at the empty holes in our souls and why we try so hard to have them filled when perhaps we are meant to be incomplete after all.
* There are books you read that are visceral and unforgettable in the most inexplicable sense. This is one of them.