Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kevin Dooley's review of The Old Love and the New Love

Review of The Old Love and the New Love
a Novel,
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.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ian Desabrais' Norse Adventure

During my brief talk at my book launch last Monday, I mentioned two former participants in my "Start a Novel" course who went on to complete their novels and publish them electronically. One of these is Ian Desabrais, the author of a Norse adventure story entitled Elnore. Recently I reviewed this novel, and below is a copy of what I said about it.


In Elnore: I Will Give You a Good Death, Ian Desabrais takes us back in time to a world which had influenced the one in which we live now. This dramatic historical novel opens by showing us the central character, a Norse smith, warrior and father.

Elnore has left a farm to settle in a community somewhere on the Scandinavian peninsula to "grow old with his wife" and to raise their children. When raiders attack the village, he leads his neighbours into hand-to-hand combat and repulses the enemy, saving many lives, including that of the village chieftain. When villagers are disposing of the dead and find the corpse of young Loklar Lothsson, they are seized with fear. Loklar's father, the powerful warrior chieftain, Loth, will seek revenge.

"Burn this place!" the village chieftain orders. "We leave here now." As the community packs up and travels to the walled settlement of Bulvi, Elnore, recovering from his battle wounds, sets out with his elkhound in pursuit of Loth. His eldest son, the skilled archer Torim, disobeys him by leaving the community en route, and joining him on a winter trek through rough, snow-covered terrain, where they encounter enemy scouts.

Ian Desabrais' extensive knowledge of Norse history never interferes with the pace of the story, but comes through, subtly, in every paragraph. During a battle scene, for instance, we read of one warrior's "circular shield with iron boss in the centre and decorated with a fierce dragon." References to iron mail shirts, too, establish that we are in the Iron Age. Elnore refers to the most brutal of the enemy warriors as "berserkers" and indeed, "berserk" is one of the words that the Norse contributed to the English language. Elnore goes to heal his wounds at a hot spring bath (a sauna) where a woman herbalist/healer uses her skills to treat him.

At the outset, our interest is captured by the action, and by details of a society that seems violent and foreign. Soon, however, the characters' humanity appeals to us. Far from being simple or "primitive", they are complicated human beings, as we are. Elnore is a spiritual person who frequently prays to Thor and Odin. He grieves at the death of his faithful dog, with "happy, loving eyes", who dies fighting one of Loth's scouts. We share his fatherly anguish when he hears Torim's screams during torture, and when he begs the Valkyries to spare his son, who has not yet lived his life. Father and son are not rivals in this novel, but buddies - mentor and student.

Whether arranging for the protection of his younger children, meeting the dark elf, Raal, in the forset, or freeing the watch birds from their cages as he creeps up on the enemy, Elnore evokes the reader's admiration. I was glad to read the question posed to Elnore near the conclusion: "Where are you taking us now?" This query hints of a second novel about Elnore. I look forward to another well-written fascinating adventure which will quietly enrich our knowledge as it entertains us.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bea Fines likes The Old Love and the New Love

I just received an email from one of my writing mentors, Winnipeg author Bea Fines. A few years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Bea's collection of short stories, Neighbours, for my column in Forever Young.

This is what Bea said about The Old Love and the New Love:

"Well done! I enjoyed the book very much. I have always liked mysteries but never tried writing one. I felt that plotting was not my forte. I am impressed at how you introduce the characters, each one important to the plot, though it doesn't seem so at first. I liked the historical setting. I can remember reading about much of what was going on in Ireland in the daily appears. News then, history now.

"You never confuse the reader with too much or too many characters at one - something I always felt Agatha Christie did. You just give us enought to keep us intrigued. Love the inclusion of song lyrics. The Black Velvet Band keeps going through my head. Here's to a good launch!"

(Bea refers to some folk songs, in the public domain, which I quoted in the novel. It is always nice to be praised by someone whose opinion you respect. Thank you, Bea.)