The Rules of Engagement

Catherine Bush, Author
Catherine Bush, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-25280-9
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Compact Disc - 1 pages - 978-0-86492-361-5
Ebook - 300 pages - 978-1-4434-0715-1
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-374-52870-6
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Eloquent and thoughtful, Bush's second novel (after Minus Time) uses the twin motifs of war and intervention to explore the nature of trust, responsibility and personal risk. The protagonist, Arcadia Hearne, is a 31-year-old Canadian expatriate now residing in London, where she works for the Centre for Contemporary War Studies. Arcadia receives a visit from her younger sister, Lux, host of a world music show seen globally. Lux introduces her to Basra Alale, a beautiful Somalian refugee and songwriter, who in turn introduces Arcadia to Amir Barmour, an Iranian teacher/translator/print-shop-worker. As Arcadia enters into a cautious relationship with Amir, flashbacks reveal details of her past romances. We learn that during her college years in Toronto, Arcadia had two lovers: the passionate, nihilistic Evan Biederman and Neil Laurier, a free-spirited but pretentious philosophy student. When Arcadia leaves Evan for Neil, an embittered Evan challenges his rival to a duel. Inexplicably, the laid-back Neil accepts. Arcadia learns of her lovers' mad plans, but finds herself unable to bring herself to intervene. The duel goes ahead as planned, Neil is badly wounded and a grief-stricken Arcadia flees the country, intent on putting as much distance as possible between herself and the source of her guilt. In heavy-handed fashion, Bush draws provocative parallels between Arcadia's war-related work at the Centre and the more immediate violence that she has experienced in her own life. Although the novel is gracefully written, pensive and dignified, it is hurt by Arcadia's cool, often aloof personality, which prevents the reader from engaging emotionally with her. Consequently, what could have been a devastating look at the symbolic confluences of personal and global conflict never catches fire. (Aug.)
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