If you've ever endured the relentless pounding of a migraine headache, Claire's Head
is a novel that will either offer temporary solace or plunge you deeper into an awareness of your pain. The hero of Catherine Bush's probing third novel is the youngest of three sisters, two of whom are second-generation migraine sufferers. A childhood of dark bedrooms and an ever-increasing number of food and air-quality restrictions have made Claire cautious and fastidious. This mild-mannered Toronto cartographer cannot enter a room without mentally mapping its dimensions and keeps putting off telling her boyfriend that she doesn't want a baby. When she receives an unexpected phone call, however, asking about the whereabouts of her eldest sister Rachel, Claire suddenly finds herself on a risky journey of emotional and spiritual self-discovery. Strong-willed, passionate, and unpredictable, Rachel has always refused to give into her own headaches. A freelance medical journalist based in New York City, she dared to have a child on her own (though she eventually gave her to the care of her middle sister, Allison), and she has experimented with every migraine cure imaginable--no matter how dangerous or off the wall. As Claire follows Rachel's rapidly vanishing trail--from a New Age healer in Amsterdam to Las Vegas's nightmare "Strip"--she gradually comes to a new understanding of her own headaches. By concentrating simply on her pain's constraints, as she always has, "she would lose sight of what it had given her, lose sight of part of herself."
Like Bush's two previous novels, Minus Time> and The Rules of Engagement, Claire's Head is smart, sophisticated, and very polished. The problem is that Claire's head is not nearly as interesting as that of her missing sister. This becomes most evident in the section devoted to Rachel's last diary entries. While Rachel's rage and desperation explode off the page, Claire's muted reflections and endless cataloguing of insignificant detail bog down the otherwise quick pacing of the novel. --Lisa Alward
“Science tries to measure it, but perhaps only literature can truly map the boundaries of pain, and its jealous dominion over us. In this suspenseful modern love story, Catherine Bush has also given us a wonderful fictional counterpart to Oliver Sacks’s classic study, Migraine
“Catherine Bush's fiction is clear, humane, gripping, and unfailingly intelligent. She is one of our finest writers.”
“It is her combination of deeply imaginative storytelling and a genius for tapping into the zeitgeist that makes Bush’s novels so compelling.”
“Meticulous, often beautiful prose.”
–Claire Messud, The Globe and Mail
“Bush writes novels as brainy as they are poignant. For my money, there is no higher recommendation.”
“Bush is an evocative writer who can create a sensuous atmosphere with a few well-chosen words.”
“Bush’s descriptions are so irresistibly seductive that you can feel them in your bones.”
–Vancouver SunFrom the Hardcover edition.