Rachel Cusk

In Second Place, the narrator, M, reminisces about the time she invited the artist L to stay on her remote property ‘on the marsh’. Fifteen years earlier in Paris, a painting of L’s on a poster advertising a major retrospective of his art had spoken to M of ‘absolute freedom’. She was then ‘a young mother on the brink of rebellion’. The night before she had allowed a famous writer – ‘an egotist, permanently drunk on his own importance’ – to string her along and then dump her unceremoniously once he decided she wasn’t worth the risk. Viewing L’s paintings in the gallery the next morning, M had felt herself ‘falling out of the frame’ of her own life and ‘became distinct from it’.

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Two years before Rachel Cusk published the first novel in her acclaimed Outline Trilogy (2014–18), she wrote a searing account of her divorce, entitled ‘Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation’, which ignited a brouhaha in her homeland, the United Kingdom. The dramatic excoriation of marital life aroused apoplexy among critics and readers; they bristled at Cusk’s subjective and one-sided storytelling, as if any other account of divorce were possible. It wasn’t the first time Cusk’s work had raised eyebrows: her memoir, A Life’s Work: On becoming a mother (2001), offended many a book-club member with its frank and unflattering descriptions of motherhood.

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Kudos concludes the extraordinary trilogy that began with Outline (2014) and Transit (2016). Following the distinctive format of the first two books, Kudos is structured by a series of conversations between the narrator (a writer named Faye, who seems to be a barely disguised version of Cusk) and various interlocutors, in which the narrator herself speaks barely at all. As before, there is nothing much in the way of a traditional plot or narrative ...

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