Conquering Venus by Collin Kelley can be found in another section of the book store (way over on the other side of the African-American author section) – The Gay Literature section. Who knew there was yet another special area in the book store where great literature can be found? Pas moi. But heck, the story takes place in Paris, France, so how could it go wrong? This novel doesn’t go wrong at all, due to an intriguing story and fantastic writing.
Aspiring writer, Martin, agrees to help his high school teacher friend, Diane, chaperone a group of her students to Paris. He doesn’t seem to spend a lot of time doing what was expected of him. Instead, Martin does spend a lot of time hitting on student David and hanging out with his new French friend Irene.
Meanwhile, Martin continues to be haunted in his dreams about the recent tragic death of his lover, Peter. Diane has recently suffered a devastating blow in her marriage which ultimately leads her to a life changing conclusion, and David is one big tragedy himself. David passes his time drinking a lot of alcohol and alternating between returning Martin’s affection and swearing that, no, he’s not gay.
Upon arriving in Paris, walking toward the hotel, Martin makes eye contact with agoraphobic Irene while she is sitting on her balcony.
He was digging in his backpack for the notebook, walking toward the hotel entrance, when he heard music coming from somewhere above him. It grew louder as he reached the hotel and Martin recognized it – Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Its rising chord section and shimmering strings were almost at their crescendo. It was coming from the apartment, the one with the balcony full of flowers. Martin looked up.
Someone was there. The woman from his dream. He blinked rapidly to clear his eyes of tears, which came with no warning. Maybe it was relief or joy or fear or a mixture of those things. the woman raised her hand in salutation, as the Adagio reached crescendo.
When they realize they have matching tribal tattoos on their left hands – they feel an instant connection. Irene has passed the previous 27 years in her apartment reviewing manuscripts and watching the guests in the Bel Air Hotel (where Martin and the group are staying) through binoculars. Tragedy struck Irene when her husband was “murdered” during the infamous1968 student riots in Paris.
Through a twisting plot involving a bomb, the revelation of hidden secrets, treasures in an attic, dreams and fortune tellers, Martin and Irene become connected in more ways than just the tattoos. They both have powerful obstacles standing in their way that could cripple many people but with each other’s help they dive in and face them.
Honestly, at first, I had a hard time with the vivid gay sex scenes (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and thought maybe I’d stop reading, but I got over myself and realized they are only part of the story. The novel is much too complex and Mr. Kelley’s writing too addictive to put the book down. Mr. Kelley completely develops his characters – I found myself so irritated by Diane that I had to find out what her “deal” was and I kept screaming at Martin that there are plenty of cute gay men – find another one!
Not being gay, I can only imagine the confusion that consumes some gay men when they realize who they are. Conquering Venus gives us a glimpse into this inner turmoil through several of Mr. Kelley’s characters (some are surprises).
While living in Paris, I didn’t spend much time around Place de la Republique where the story occurs, so I immediately Googled all of the locations in Mr. Kelley’s novel and became extremely nostalgic. As I’ve said in other posts, there is nothing I enjoy more than a great story that gives me a history lesson of one of my favorite cities. Mr. Kelley helps me out here with details about the Paris riots in 1968.
I only touch on a portion of what transpires in Conquering Venus – check it out for the rest. The novel is not only Mr. Kelley’s first (he has published poetry), but also the first in a trilogy. I am very interested to see what happens next with Martin and Irene. I really hope Martin meets a nice boy sans baggage.
P.S. Amazon says they are about out so if you buy via Amazon you’d better act quickly.