Follow by Email


A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rachel Cusk's novel Outline much better than it may sound when summarized

It's obvious that the British novelist Rachel Cusk is in the spotlight, as she's received strong reviews in both the U.S. and U.K. and has been recently the subject of a NYer profile and an NPR interview, both somewhat rare for a literary novelist - yet something has kept me from reading her much-praised recent works - a trilogy (the 3rd volume not yet published) in which the narrator, a woman presumably much like Cusk, listens to the stories of various people she encounters in her travels who confide in her about their troubled lives and broken marriages. Sounded pretty dull and depressing to me. N.the.less, spurred by curiosity and remembering a strong recommendation from old from E.S., I started reading the first vol of the trilogy, Outline (2014), and find myself impressed and interested at this point (read the first two, of ten I think, chapters). In the first chapter, narrator listens to the life story of a man seated next to her on a flight to Athens (she will be one of the leaders at a writers' workshop); he tells of his family fortune that he's more or less lost through two unhappy marriages/bitter divorces - his narrative is much like a strong short story, with occasional commentary - much like a therapist or counselor  - from the narrator, and it's the narrator's (i.e., Cusk's) great intelligence and insight (sure, why not, she's creating these characters) that propels the story. Early on (p.18) Cusk provides a truly astonishing observation, noticing how an infant will toss to the ground an object such as a toy, then cry in despair, then the adult (mom) will pick up the toy and return it to the child, who will immediately toss it to the ground then cry again. Why? She surmises that the child gets such great pleasure from the alleviation of despair that the child would rather toss the toy aside than hold onto it. Without saying so, Cusk implies that this dynamic lies behind so many loves and marriages: why do some keep making the same mistakes in choosing their partners? Because the alleviation of despair is so gratifying, perhaps. 2nd chapter involves her listening to the tales of woe from a fellow teacher at the writer's conference, and she gets an invite to go out on a boat w/ the Greek man from chapter 1, so there will apparently be some interlacing of these narrative segments. Whether she can sustain the interest through 10 sections, much less over the course of 3 novels, I don't yet know, but all readers will feel they're in sure hands.

No comments:

Post a Comment