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

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

The opacity of the narrator in Rachel Cusk's Outline

One item to note in Rachel Cusk's fine and challenging novel Outline (2014) is the opacity of the narrator. The entire narrative (at least so far, 2/3 thru) is from the POV of the unnamed narrator but surely someone meant to be much like if not identical to RC herself, as she travels to Athens for a writers' workshop and during her stay in Athens. he has an astonishing capacity to meet people and to propel them to tell her their life stories, w/ particular focus on the challenges and breakdowns for their marital life and their struggle to raise children while engaging in a career in the arts. We meet, in I think this order, an Athenian man from a wealthy family who's ended 3 marriages and, we learn somewhat later, is devoted to caring for his son who is suffering from schizophrenia; a fellow writer at the conference, an Irish author, somewhat stymied in his work after initial success, w/ a propensity for flirting w/ young women and ostensibly (or so he says) w/ the tacit approval of his wife; a Greek novelist whom she knows from the past who invites to a dinner meet another novelist, a woman, who is suddenly somewhat famous largely because of the feminist principles that she puts forward in her novel - and she (like the Irish writer, for that matter) is an extraordinary egotist and narcissist - and a few others - but the overall point is how much they say and how little RC says - though everything she says is trenchant and pointed, including the observation about infancy noted in yesterday's post and, as another example, her brief discussion about her two sons and their gradual alienation and separation from each other, after a childhood of shared games and illusions. All of these narratives circling around the central narrator are in a sense a paradigm for the life of, & the role of, the writer and the artist: making sense of the stories of other people's lives, bringing these stories into confluence - all lives, RC seems to be saying, are narratives, and we each create the narrative of our life, though rarely get to articulate these narratives (except perhaps in psychotherapy). Something about her draws people out into lengthy confessions, that she absorbs and, in a sense, appropriates. It's at times hard to keep the narratives separate in our minds as we read through this novel, which is I think exactly the point - by the end we get a broader picture of what it means to live a life and to tell, even to oneself, the story of our lives.

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