Review of The Old Love and the New Love
by Ruth Latta
Baico - 2011/2012 176 pages/ref/bio 4 pages
Ruth Latta's short novel set in Ottawa has a gracious simplicty to it, but weaving and connecting to an incredible complexity and drama.
Cleo, the main character, lives a very happy, contented and self-contained life with her husband, Andy, in an old-style home in an Ottawa suburb. She is an independent artist and he is a veterinarian. Their lives revolve around each other, their work, and home. But almost everyone has some kind of checkered past. To Cleo, this comes calling when an old lover, Leo Phelan, visits, literally at her door after a decade. He is an older Irish native, a musician/craft teacher now in Ottawa to play a gig. According to his story, his gig was aborted, he is on hard times and is offered temporary accommodation. Cleo must now do a balancing act in her home and married life, and clearly things are not right. She finds a revolver and a large sum of money hidden by Leo. Stories do not add up and now the perplexion is, who, what is Leo?
The past is revealed. Leo's real name is Liam O'Faolain, an Irish emigrant, an "IRA", partially disabled (knee) in a shoot-out, and active in the fundaising support work in the North American Irish diaspora. He has mobility and cover as a musician/craft teacher. Cleo's life with him was short.
Drama and violence visit her and this calm suburb. The long saga of Irish conflict against British colonialism has only but reached a partial solution in the then-Peace Accord (1998). Liam is not about to escape some of the contradictions of this accord. A relative of one of his victims (loyalist) comes seaching, as does a recalcitrant gunman who does not support the accord. Liam is a money/bagman, a target, and all of this is connected right into Cleo's life. The drama soon involves police/CSIS and as it all unfolds, Cleo learns that an old, separated couple, lifelong friends and mentors, are part of the continuing saga of the Irish conflict. They have carried in them life-long memories and trauma, as children, from Ireland itself, and they are long covert IRA supporters and contacts for Liam. They literally bring it all down on Cleo. Liam, who now supports the Peace Accord and wants an end to the military conflict, does intervene.
But the saga unfolds in an unexpected end. The elderly man becomes a suicide bomber in an attempt on a royal on a visit to Ottawa. It is he who carries the trauma to this extent, and does not accept there can be any peaceful way to resolve the Irish conflict.
The flow of the novel is smooth, and shows clearly how such dramas can unfold in any normal, common, ordinary life. Life is made up of the simple and the complex. Ruth Latta shows it well.