Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
Torp, Michael Mirolla’s latest novel, is a story that explores the politics of the personal. It tells the story of a young couple, Nicole and Giulio, who have just moved out to Vancouver in 1970 to start their married life. They rent a tiny basement apartment beneath a house belonging to an old man and his wife, and Giulio begins his job in the philosophy department of the university.
Giulio soon develops a friendship with one of his students, Torp, and brings him home to have dinner with himself and Nicole. Torp is homeless and lives on the beach with a group of others who reject the norms and traditions of the rest of society. Though initially resistant to having Torp in their lives, Nicole soon warms to him, and both she and Giulio start spending a great deal of time with him.
Their dinners with Torp eventually turn into threesomes, and Giulio and Nicole are soon unable to enjoy or understand their relationship without Torp. He quickly becomes an essential part of their lives. This is much to the dismay of their landlord, who doesn’t like Torp, and blames his wife’s death on Torp’s presence. After the implementation of the War Measures Act, Torp is arrested. In his absence, Nicole and Giulio’s life begins to fall apart. Their relationship starts to disintegrate, and Giulio takes off without warning to go in search of Torp.
Though there is the implication that Torp is himself involved in the bombings that an anarchist group is unleashing upon the city, the novel provides no clear conclusion for Torp—he simply vanishes from their lives, and Nicole and Giulio must move on without him.
The book is written through the perspectives of both Giulio and Nicole, alternating between Nicole’s thoughts and experiences to Giulio’s, and allows the reader insight into both characters and their personal journeys. Rather than focusing on a single perspective, this tactic allows the story to be experienced from various angles.
The novel is a political story, both on a national and personal level. The story is set against the backdrop of the FLQ and the October Crisis in Quebec and the resulting implementation of the War Measures Act, as well as the ideas of Torp and his group generally challenging the typical notions of societal order. At the same time, the threesome and the details of Nicole and Giulio’s relationship allow for a nuanced exploration of the politics between individuals.
At 300 pages, the book moves quickly and switches from Nicole’s to Giulio’s perspective, and back again, with ease. It successfully maneuvers the space between traditional society and those who wish to subvert it. The story, however, occasionally relies on overly complicated metaphors, and the plot sometimes makes unfathomable leaps. These factors can make the story difficult to engage with at times.
Despite this, Torp successfully creates a feeling of mild paranoia, a kind of tense energy that runs throughout the book. It is fraught with the characters’ political and emotional intentions, and the responses they evoke in others around them. It’s a novel that showcases the politics of personal lives amidst the politics of national significance.
Torp is published in 2016 by Linda Leith Publishing Inc.