by Cusk, Rachel

A literary visit to a Europe in transition finds a material-seeking writer deeply identifying with the people she meets before evaluating difficult questions about acclaim, justice and the ultimate value of suffering. By the award-winning author of Outline.

Rachel Cusk is the author of Outline, Transit, the memoirs A Life's Work, The Last Supper, and Aftermath, and several other novels: Saving Agnes, winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award; The Temporary; The Country Life, which won a Somerset Maugham Award; The Lucky Ones; In the Fold; Arlington Park; and The Bradshaw Variations. She was chosen as one of Granta's 2003 Best of Young British Novelists. She lives in London.

*Starred Review* In this final book in the Outline trilogy (Outline, 2015; Transit, 2017), Cusk's seemingly invisible protagonist, Faye, is attending a literary conference in Germany. There she describes settings and conversations in great detail, but as the conference draws to a close, we find that once again she herself has had little to say. Those who interview her have come with their impressions already formed, or with so much of their own lives to convey, Faye's story-her remarriage, the nature of her recent work, the new security in her relationships with her sons-remains hidden, waiting for readers to discover it between the lines. Cusk starkly contrasts Faye's new personal evolution with the anonymous, dispirited writer we met at the series' start, but she is surrounded by repeating tales of bitter divorces, physical tragedies, and career strains. Set against the political backdrop of Brexit, Cusk's dramatization of the ongoing struggle for feminine identity in a traditional and patriarchal world is burdensome and bleak, even as rare moments of tenderness shine through. Brilliantly aware without being indulgent or preachy, this novel has the intense beauty of form that has marked Cusk's trilogy from the beginning, and the final installment does not disappoint. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Brexit provides the sociopolitical background for Cusk's existential investigation into the nature of freedom and the construction of identity, the concluding volume to her brooding trilogy begun with Outline (2015). Narrator Faye has married again since her excursions in Transit (2017), but almost everyone she meets at a literary festival in an unnamed European country is either bitterly divorced or painfully ambivalent about family life. Even pets become the source of power struggles with spouses and children in some of the seething personal narratives people share with Faye. Cusk also paints a sardonic portrait of the literary life via the monologues of a philistine salesman-turned-publisher, a first novelist disenchanted by a pretentious writers' retreat, and an arrogant journalist who's supposed to be interviewing Faye but barely lets her get a word in. Despite the brilliantly detailed descriptions of these characters and the locations through which they uneasily pass, t his is not conventionally naturalistic fiction; conversations reveal unrecorded lapses of time within the narrative, and people examine their experiences in highly abstract language not intended to reproduce vernacular speech. Physical reality is as mutable and subject to question as the identities people carefully create and then later reject. One man, who connects his new success as an author with the radical loss of half his body weight, speaks for many when he concludes that, "The person he'd always been…lived in a prison of his own making." Many of the broken marriages described were shattered by one partner's desire for freedom, but that too may be an illusion: "When they thought they were free," says one man of some friends, "they were in fact lost without knowing it." Faye's tender telephone exchanges with her two sons remind us there is love in the world, too (though we never learn more about her new marriage than that it exists). Nonetheless, a jarring and ug l y final scene confirms an overall impression that Cusk's views of human nature and personal relationships are as bleak as ever. Brilliantly accomplished and uncompromisingly dark. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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