Friday, March 01, 2024

Rachel Cusk


I've just finished Rachel Cusk's Outline and let me say at the start, this is one melacholy book. But despite that sorrow, that sense of regret and longing, I really enjoyed it. A lot, I gather, has been written about the structure of Outline, about its form and shape. By which I mean: the novel largely operates without a center, and without a traditional sense of conflict. The main character -- someone resembling Cusk -- interacts with strangers and acquaintances, but the record of those interactions does not assume the contours of a traditional novel. Instead, these discussions are remembered -- and are, in a way, one step removed their original reality. (I was reminded of Sebald at several points.) Cusk recounts many stories, but never in a way which is obtrusive or which demands to be heard. Her narrative is a quiet thing: there's an ethereal quality to her writing which makes it almost haunting. The melancholy hanging over all of this is the result of Cusk's suggestion that we -- we humans -- have so much to give, some much emotion to share; and yet, we often miss the mark, or fail to share, or fail to fully express ourselves. The result is a disconnect in which either nothing is said at all, or in which much is said, but fails to transmit the intensity of the primary emotion. That one of Cusk's characters mistakes "solicitude" for "solitude" says a lot about this novel and its aims. I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual, emotional, and effective work of art.

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