This month’s book was Outline by Rachel Cusk, the first in a trilogy. Rachel Cusk, was born in Canada and now lives and works in England. She has, in her career to date, won both the Whitbread First Novel and Somerset Maugham Awards.
Outline is narrated by Faye. A recently divorced writer who is travelling to Greece to teach a writing class. That simplistic premise belies the complexity of this novel. A claim that will no doubt be refuted by those who thought it a boring progression of self-absorbed individuals unburdening themselves in one-sided conversations where the narrator’s role seems to be that of passive conduit, rather than participant. She becomes an outline only, if you like.
This reader found it quite unnerving. Inhuman almost. It is also what made this novel such a compelling read.
The first conversation is that with her neighbour on the plane. A much married character who reappears, unlike most of the other conversants, at regular intervals throughout the book. He brings to mind the stereotypical Greek tycoon (cue Aristotle Onassis) even though he is no longer a rich man. It is this conversation that sets the book’s tone. A series monologues about relationships: parents, children and especially partners and wives.
Apart from the “tycoon”, through Faye we meet, in classrooms, restaurants and bars, a progression of characters who are, for the most part, involved in the industry of writing. Students, publishers, novelists and poets. Throughout these encounters, Cusk manages to imbue her description of both person and place with an eye for detail and some beautifully restrained prose. She is a deceptively masterful writer.
Although we did not all agree on the merits of this book, as a whole we did find it quite a unique read. The New Yorker labels it as a “gut-renovation” of the novel.
Ratings: Claudia and Kim 4; Margie, Di, Gail, Janet, Viv, Nicola, Jenny and Pauline 3; Sandy 3.5 and Lynda 2.5.
Hope to see you all there and happy reading!
We are a group that gets together once a month to discuss good books. Each of us gets to choose a book on a rotational basis, preferably one outside our personal comfort zone – we try to keep the trash to ourselves. After the discussion, we comment on other books we read that month. Most of the time we remain friends after the meeting.
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