When Zoë Strachan’s debut novel Negative Space was published, back in 2002, it announced a notable new voice in Scottish writing, winning a Betty Trask Award and being shortlisted for the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award. Since then, each of the writer’s novels has been keenly anticipated and warmly received. Her latest, Catch the Moments as They Fly, is now with us, and it’s the most ambitious yet.
Covering a 30-year period between 1936 and 1966, it centres on the lives and love of Rena and Bobby, their friends, and specifically their family. While world events unfold in the background, they are starting families and businesses, and dealing with potential obstacles to the success of both. Few write about the dramas of the everyday as beautifully and empathetically as Strachan does, capturing the minutiae of the mundane while contextualising it with events in the wider world, the two inextricably intertwined.
Catch the Moments as They Fly is packed with poignancy and pathos, but also humour, kindness, and forgiveness (even when the latter is perhaps unearned). This is personified by the complex relationship between Rena and Bobby, which is a strange kind of love, but love nevertheless. It’s an historical novel – the details and spot-on references suggest considerable research – but it doesn’t feel like it.
Rena and her family read like people you know, or may even be related to, and there’s a contemporary feel to the novel as a whole, which is unexpected. This is in no small part down to the style of the writing, which is clever but never showy and moves the narration along almost imperceptibly. Dramatic events are often only fully revealed with hindsight, making you reassess what you have previously read.
Themes include class, violence, poverty, religion, addiction, illness, and so much more, but these are never dealt with sensationally or with a heavy hand. Depicting lives all too rarely found in fiction and, in Rena Jarvie, introducing a strong and striking central character, it feels like Catch the Moments as They Fly is the novel Zoë Strachan has been working towards from the beginning.
If you aren’t familiar with her work, it’s the perfect place to start. For those who are, it’s a welcome return.
Catch the Moments as They Fly is available now, published by Blackwater Press. Buy here.