Quiet epiphanies among most explosive moments in ‘Conquering Venus’




When reality becomes too painful, who hasn’t wished to be able to run away to another city or even another country—a place without reminders or other people who remember what we can’t forget or face. In Collin Kelley’s new novel Conquering Venus, Martin Paige does and seizes that chance when his best friend Diane, a high school teacher, invites him to accompany her to Paris, as a chaperone for a group of students on their graduation trip.

Still grieving his lover Peter’s suicide and consumed by despair, Martin makes the life-altering decision to accept her offer. He is immediately drawn into an escalating relationship with David McLaren, one of the students. David appears by turns affectionate and cruel as he flirts with Martin, rebukes him and retreats into alcohol. But David, like Peter, is conflicted with his gut emotions and what his parents have taught and expect from him. Diane’s frank irritation with this situation apparently is to keep her friend, her student and herself out of dangers emotional, physical and legal. We learn later she’s buried her own secrets that won’t lay still and stay quiet.

Before Martin leaves for Paris, and while he’s there, a mysterious woman keeps appearing in his dreams and even as a vision when he’s awake. He and the enigmatic Irène Laureaux are entwined with a connection both emotional and physical even before they meet. On identical places on their left hands are matching tattoos. Martin and Peter had the same uncommon tribal symbols, meaning “equal but opposite” tattooed on their left hands as symbols of commitment, as did Irène and her deceased husband, Jean-Louis.

After landing in Paris and checking into the hotel, Martin is stunned to see that this same woman who has been haunting him lives in the apartment across from his hotel room. They are quickly drawn to each other and begin spending time together in her apartment. A debilitating agoraphobia imprisons Irène in her apartment, where she works as a book editor and spies on the hotel guests. She tells Martin of Jean-Louis’ involvement in the student/worker riots of 1968 in Paris and of his death in the riots. More diplomatic in expression than Diane, Irène also warns Martin to be cautious in his handling of David.

As the student trip draws to a close, a devastating terrorist attack occurs on a Paris metro station. The bombing forces a turning point, making the characters face the truths of their own lives. Secrets are exposed, creating unexpected outcomes, some that foresee drastic consequences. Emotional revelations result in Irène and David having to look truth in the face and redirect their emotions.

It is unfortunate that the top line on the back of the book describes it as “Gay Literary Fiction.” Even with the homosexual themes, the characters and their stories will resonate with most all readers, not just those in the gay community. Kelley does an excellent job of taking us seamlessly into the paranormal scenes and back to reality, neither missing the proverbial beat or losing one bit of his hold on the reader. And sometimes the most explosive moments for these characters in Conquering Venus, are the quiet ones, the epiphanies, and the ones where truth and memories won’t stay put in their hiding places.

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  1. Excellent review Jennifer Perry…just enough to capture my curiosity and make me want to read the book, but not so much that I know the story without reading it. I will have to experience the quiet epiphanies for myself.

  2. This sounds like a great read. I’m adding it to my Christmas list. And thanks for pointing out that fiction is meant to cross just about any kind of race/gender/orientation line you can throw at it.

  3. Wow! Thank you for piquing my interest even more about this book. I’m intrigued and can’t wait to find out more about the characters in Conquering Venus. What a unique and exciting story line, I love it! I’m familiar with Kelley’s other work and look forward to snuggling up this weekend with this little gem.

    Great review!

  4. I read the last line of the review over and over-that line about the quiet moments for the characters makes me want to read this book. I hope the characters live up to the rich thought.

  5. Sounds like a haunting read that I’d love to dive into in front of a fire on a nasty day like today. Bring on the hot chocolate, I can’t ever get enough images of France!

  6. Ok. I had seen this book in the newpaper, but after reading this review it sounds exciting and mysterious enough to hold my attention. Thank you to Jennifer, for I have found my next read!

  7. You made it informative enough to make me want to read this book but vague enough to keep me guessing. I have heard of this book before but now I’m very interested in reading it. The part that got me so interested is how you described the quiet moments-I’ve always felt those were always the most captivating. Thanks so much!

  8. What a well written review! You grabbed my interest with just enough detail making me really look forward to reading the book. I will pass this on to several friends that I anticipate will be very interested in reading it too. It really sounds like it taps into so many elements we face in life…whether we want to or not. Great job Jennifer.

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