I first heard of Catherine Bush when her novel Claire’s Head was reviewed in the Globe & Mail. It sounded intriguing and some years later, I read it. It’s about a woman looking for her sister, both of them migraine sufferers, a quest that takes her to different therapies and countries. Although I wasn’t exactly enthralled (initially) with the quality of the writing, I was interested, and the story pulled me along. I noticed myself caring more and more about what happened, and to my surprise, I found the ending powerful and moving. It wasn’t the kind of climax I’d expected. It gave me a lot to think about (and I think about it still). I liked that the structure of the novel wasn’t all revealed in the first half. Truly, the point of the book could not be discerned until the whole thing had been experienced.
That’s why I kept going with Minus Time even though I found the main character, Helen Urie, frustratingly “enclosed” (passive?) in the early parts and I have little or no interest in astronauts or space travel. But the book isn’t about space travel, it’s about relationships—Helen’s relationship with herself, her family members, her friends, her environment. Our relationship to our society, to our planet. I found the opening sequence, in which Helen and her brother watch a space shuttle lift-off, well-presented and well-written, but I felt that it should have had an emotional resonance for me which it didn’t have. That made sense later. For me, learning to be a good reader has a lot to do with this idea: Trust the book. Trust that the book and its structure and meaning will become apparent. This kind of thinking is in opposition to my blunt “first line test”, yet recently I have been reading and enjoying books which fail my first line test.
I have to say, with Minus Time, the energy I put into reading it was well worth it. The structure of the novel is complicated and elegant, the main character does undergo complex emotional evolution, and the seemingly disparate activities of the family members (astronaut, earthquake relief worker, architecture student, environmental/animal rights activist) all come together—the writer uses metaphor and repeating thematic elements to great effect. The writing becomes powerfully evocative and poetic later in the novel. I admire a novelist who can orchestrate such effects as Bush does in this book: narrative, metaphoric, emotional. Again, I have a lot to think about. The ending put tears in my eyes and will stay with me a long while.