Outline: Rachel Cusk


Somewhere I heard that the British writer Rachel Cusk was brutally honest, unafraid of relating the truth, and never wrote to soften the blows of reality. Her works appear to be mostly autobiographical—memoirs—but it’s important to remember that we are dealing with fiction.

I grabbed most of Cusk’s major titles and started reading one of the newest: Outline.

Well, it’s true that Cusk is a good writer and that her vision of reality is honest and adult, but I found the novel somewhat tedious. The New York Times review concluded:

Cusk’s narrator — who has left home, whose family factors minimally — renders inane such incredulity by reproducing the stories of both men and women as a means of hinting toward her own. By freeing the narrator of a body, the novel allows readers to accept a more complex portrait of a person — a self instead of a set of gender stereotypes. The result is a heartbreaking portrait of poise, sympathy, regret and rage, and with this book, Cusk suggests a powerful alternate route for the autobiographical novel. She is too skeptical and thorough, however, not to interrogate her indirect methods of “self” presentation. At one point, a woman with whom the narrator is sharing an Athens apartment addresses the perils of choosing silence, asking, “If people were silent about the things that had happened to them, was something not being betrayed, even if only the version of themselves that had experienced them?” As “Outline” nevertheless proves, what’s documented is as telling as what is left out. The silent are as voluble as those who speak.

I suppose that if you are steeped in contemporary literature, yet another exploration of well-worn themes can be exciting and trigger such responses as might be encountered seeing your tired old face in a carnival mirror, but it left me flat. This is not to say that Outline was not a good book: it just didn’t (as the hacks say) resonated with me.


However, it was good enough for me to continue reading the author. Here is a bit of bibliography from Wikipedia:

Saving Agnes (1993)
The Temporary (1995)
The Country Life (1997)
The Lucky Ones (2003)
In the Fold (2005)
Arlington Park (2006)
The Bradshaw Variations (2009)
Outline (2014)

A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother (2001)
The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy (2009)
Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation (2012)

 Note that a review of Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation written by Camilla Long won the Hatchet Job of the Year award.

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