Can innocence exist without certainty? Accusation, Catherine Bush’s fourth novel, explores this question in a powerful reflection on the nature of allegations. In this tense, intimate mystery, Bush examines the relationship between guilt and perception, using characters so vivid they captivate from the first page.
The story begins with a drive. After becoming interested in a touring Ethiopian children’s circus, Sara Wheeler, a journalist, agrees to drive the circus’ director Raymond Renaud from Toronto to Montreal. The two share a six-hour trip, and though they part ways afterwards, Sara feels a lasting sense of closeness to Raymond. Months later, when startling accusations arise about abuse within the circus, Sara begins to question her memories of that night. What does she really know about the circus and its charismatic director? How much weight does an accusation hold?
When Sara sets out to answer these questions, what follows is not just a gripping journey spanning Canada, Ethiopia and Australia, but a meditation on the conditions of guilt and justice. Exploring Sara’s stake in the case as both an observer and journalist, the novel follows Sara’s need to find answers, and the consequences of this need. As she moves closer to the truth, Sara reflects on her own experiences with accusation, asking whether guilt requires proof or simply perception.
“If accused, you were speaking, always, into the wind of the possibility of not being
believed, you had to try to convince your listener, and anything might sound defensive or overcompensatory or strident, you battered yourself against the wall of what you had not done but others claimed you had, and somehow you had to dissolve this wall or leap over it.”
Through Sara’s thoughtful lens, the book examines basic questions of morality without veering into melodrama or clichés. Bush pulls together multiple threads to explore the theme: Sara’s past as an investigative journalist, her friend Juliet’s documentary on the children’s circus, and the circus’ meaning for its participants and their community. By maintaining constant tension between sought and revealed information, the story creates a sense of uncertainty, which is both troubling and absorbing for the reader.
The story is rendered in Bush’ elegant prose, delivering lyrical moments that leave an impact. The language is careful, the narration intimate. The writing flows uninterrupted by quotation marks, pulling the reader into the rhythm of Sara’s questions, insights and frustrations. Accusation is a story of yearning: the desire to know, and the limitations of that knowledge.
“Always there were the questions you meant to ask and didn’t,” Sara reflects, “the questions that came too late, or you were interrupted, the questions that went on yawning inside you.”
With skill and nuance, Accusation explores how allegations affect relationships and communities, and how the search for understanding can change a person deeply.