COLLIN KELLEY AS ALCHEMIST.
Many "contemporary novels" are labeled "magical realism" when they are infused with the surreal. Isabel Allende is a master at this. And in "Conquering Venus", Collin Kelley provides us with a novel Ms. Allende herself would enjoy.
As if tapping into some primeval drive, Collin Kelley unearths desire of various types--repressed, taboo, and unrecognized, in nearly every word.
In "Conquering Venus", Kelley's debut novel, protaganist Martin Paige is a man haunted by a death, and a secret.
During a trip from Memphis to London to Paris in which he embarks(ostensibly) to assist his best friend, Diane, Martin disovers that his ability to fall-in-love may be damaged, but not gone. With the deft care of an older, mysterious Frenchwoman, and the intuition his dreams (and hers) provide, Martin is coaxed, pushed, and finally, metaphorically-speaking, held hostage by his own conscience.
Many women readers will connect with Martin's losses and his seeming inability to get past old hurts. Many men will connect with Martin as well.
And both genders will pine for the ever-elusive Frenchwoman, the voyeur (she watches other people, in their hotel rooms) who passes time, from a prison of her own making.
The eventual object of Martin's affection is quite compelling, too: he is one taboo component of this "triangular" love story. And when I say "triangular", it's not what you think. There are three separate "triangles" in this dark, edge-y and oddly spiritual love story; that's because each of them intersect each other's lives in wondrous ways.
The characters here are so well-drawn, you may well forget you're reading a novel, and begin to refer to what you read, as a film you saw.
The novel will ask you many questions, but Kelley does not not hand us easy answers. He lets the characters speak for themselves, and by the end of the novel, he's performed an alchemy of sorts--and we are left with something familiar, something comforting, a sweet scent, like a French perfume. Ethereal, and lovely.