A novel about an English businessman’s adjustment to life in Austria that takes the form of a spiritual journey.
Robert Wallace has little to hold him in the United Kingdom when he agrees to take a management position at a firm in a town in the Austrian countryside. Although he loves his children, they live with his ex-wife and her new husband, so he looks abroad for meaning in his life. In spite of his very limited command of the German language, he soon develops a full life in his new home. Each chapter begins with a description of one of the tarot’s Major Arcana, whose meaning plays out in the story that follows. Many of the new people that Robert meets have spiritual lessons to impart, such as the ailing Mrs. Mueller—“Empress” in the tarot—who teaches him about the power of dreams. As Robert progresses from “The Fool” to “The World,” he navigates the complexities of friendship, romance, and parenthood, all intensified by the challenges of learning a new culture. Searle uses this episodic format to delve into a number of serious issues, including xenophobia, mental illness, and abusive relationships, as his protagonist becomes increasingly involved in mysticism and the occult via classes in reiki healing and psychic reading. Overall, though, Searle’s narrative sometimes feels slow and overly detailed. The prose style is often distractingly stilted, such as when Robert describes a woman at one of his psychic workshops: “He could see that she had carefully tended her long locks of hair, which shone in the light.” The work as a whole is also unlikely to convince those readers who don’t already have a firm grounding in concepts of New Age spirituality. That said, a number of Robert’s struggles will likely ring true to many, especially at moments when he ruefully recognizes his own fallibility.
An uneven fish-out-of-water story that doubles as a New Age enlightenment handbook.