Marshall's Reviews > Conquering Venus

Conquering Venus by Collin Kelley
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Jun 03, 10

Read in June, 2010

** spoiler alert ** I read an earlier draft of this book several years ago, and was deeply impressed with Kelley's abilities as a writer. As a poet, he has a gift for clever-but-not-overwrought turns of phrase and succinct, illuminating flashes of insight. The same gift is in evidence here, in the edition of the book that finally saw print after way too long in limbo. It's a compelling read, with prose that adheres to what I consider the highest standard: it flows without drawing undue attention to itself. It's a page-turner without being lighter than air and containing nothing but pleasant-smelling vapors. The characters are meticulously drawn, as is the Paris setting. There is a palpable sense of tension in the book that never boils over but keeps things moving along at an engaging simmer. Yes, I really liked it.

Conquering Venus is a unique story, and it doesn't fit neatly in with any category I can think of. It's a novel of the supernatural, but the phenomenon of interlinked lives is not explained in this volume. (Kelley reportedly conceived of the book as the first in a trilogy. I'm assuming that all will be revealed in time.) Kelley definitely didn't let the characters have the easy way out. Some of them are quite hard to like at times. No one is redeemed at the end by the power of love. Nor is it a coming-out story where a young protagonist finds himself and lives happily ever after. In fact, it's almost the antithesis of a Bildungsroman, since the at the end of the book the characters are all in more complicated circumstances than they were at the beginning. If anything, the interstitial nature of this book is one of its greatest assets. It borrows from various genres without truly belonging to any of them, and in so doing, it creates its own set of rules and its own road map.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a couple of gripes. Ironically, for all the richness of the Paris setting, the chapters near the end - set in Memphis - felt less fleshed-out than the parts of the book set in Europe. Although these chapters are essential to the story, they read didn't convey the same sense of place. But perhaps that was the point: returning to American suburban blah after hyperreal experiences in central Paris could be nothing but an anticlimax for Martin. Another gripe: terrorist activity is a significant plot device (and one that probably made publishers nervous), but the identity of the terrorists - while not necessarily the point - was less than clear. The author's afterword discusses this a little, but I thought that with the overall level of detail in the book, this lacuna was puzzling. I don't know if these were oversights or deliberate choices, but if I'd been writing the book, I'd have done it differently. That being said, it's nitpicking to make a list of flaws when a book is as strong as this. I don't know whether there's still going to be a sequel, and if so, how much of it has been written. It's a book I'll buy as soon as it is released (unless I'm fortunate enough to get my hands on a copy before it comes out).
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message 1: by Collin (new) - added it

Collin Kelley Marshall,

What an incredibly generous review of "Venus." I appreciate it more than I can say.

You make a very interesting point about the supernatural connections between the characters. I do have some ideas about it, but I'm not sure it needs explanation. I always think about George Lucas trying to explain the Force with the midi-chlorians nonsense in the second Star Wars trilogy. What a load of hoo-ha.

Of course, I could pull a Lost and all the characters could be dead. Or maybe they are all secretly vampires and werewolves. ;-)

Cheers,
CK


Marshall You're welcome. The book was a pleasure to read. Glad to do it. One thing, though. Obviously you wrote the thing, so I can't speak to what was going on in your head (and I loathe it when others presume to do the same with something I wrote), but I'm not sure I agree with the midi-chlorians/Force analogy. In the case of the Force, as a quasi-religious/spiritual/whatever entity, it was self-explanatory. Religion (or whatever the best analogue is) is something people are already primed to understand. But in the book (again, I'm treading carefully here), you described a phenomenon rather than invoking a supernatural or religious Thing for which readers would already have a frame of reference. It's not the same thing. I'm sure there are ways of explaining/illuminating it without resorting to lame science (or "Amel has the flesh!").

Lost is a good analogy, because for all the emotional catharsis of the finale (heartstrings were definitely tugged), in terms of the arc of the story, I thought the writers should have made different choices. They didn't need to spell it all out for us. However, despite all the disclaimers about the character-driven nature of the show, a big part of its appeal was the interaction between those characters and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the Island. By leaving so many questions unanswered in the end, I think the writers did the audience a disservice. There's a line: how much explanation a reader or viewer may reasonably expect, versus how much the writer or director retains the prerogative to imply or leave open for speculation. I thought the Lost team erred on the side of leaving too much open for speculation.

I'm done rambling now. Thanks again for a terrific read.

M.


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