Reviewed by Gail M. Murray
Liz Torlee has crafted a contemporary novel that invites more questions than answers. Her fluid style carries the reader along as the drama unfolds, mingling love, art, astrology and the mystical.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “There’s a divinity/destiny that shapes our ends/Rough-hew them as we will.” Torlee’s constant theme throughout asks is fate at play? What happens if we don’t pay attention? Should we embrace our fate? And what happens if we don’t? Her plot and characters underscore this theme yet are so well developed as to appear flesh and blood. I found myself reacting emotionally to their ‘choices,’ especially Rachel’s.
Twenty-four-year-old Rachel Covelli, with a fine arts degree and a few courses in Egyptology, sets off for Egypt to research a museum assignment. Following a lead, she traverses the narrow backstreets of Cairo to interview Karl von Randow, a Swiss astronomer and former lecturer at the University of Alexandria, hoping his expertise will lend her writing assignment an intriguing perspective. She gets more than she bargained for.
Karl,in his early thirties, is cold, dismissive, condescending. Though fearful and uneasy, she is drawn to him. Under the brilliant desert night sky, fueled by Diviner’s Sage (a blend of salvia divinorum and blue lotus leaves extract) from his silver flask and his intense personality, we are privy to their passionate, provocative love-making. I am reminded of Ralph Fienne’s character Laslo de Almasy in The English Patient. I can see Alexander Skarsgard in the part with his blonde hair and piercing eyes.
Torlee envelops us in Cairo with its children’s laughter, scents of cinnamon, and tastes of pungent pastel Turkish cigarettes and strong jasmine tea. “Cairo wrapped itself around her and she gave herself up to its embrace.”(p62) The woman who loves art and writing also gives herself up to the euphoria she experiences with Karl.
“Was this a healthy kind of love…she didn’t care, couldn’t stop…she had never felt so vital, so energized, and almost omnipotent. And what about him, the inner voice would persist, his possessiveness, his intense need to control.” (p82)
I never understood why Rachel returned to Canada to take the art critic course. Was her time with Karl too unreal, otherworldly? While taking the course which leads to her new career, she has a tragic accident that haunts her.
While on assignment to review up-and-coming painter Steven Farrow, she again becomes involved. Rachel experiences a startling reaction to his canvases, especially the one of a stag leaping across the road. Later in the novel, we understand why.
Rachel's two men are complete opposites, both demanding in their own way, and both begin on a negative footing. With Steven, Rachel feels powerless by her own admission. After their initial conflict, “they had slipped into a gentle companionship, a quiet kind of love.” (p147)
As the story unfolds in three different countries over fifteen years (2000-2015), the tension and conflict between Rachel's relationship with two different men and two different worlds accelerates. Torlee’s attention to detail and poetic sensibility draw the reader in, make us reflect, wonder and journey from dark to light. The ending took me by surprise and I loved it. A most captivating read.
The Way Things Fall is published by Blue Denim Press.