Book Review: Outline by Rachel Cusk


I found this an odd book.  I guess this sort of literary fiction really isn’t my kind of thing – I’m a simple creature who enjoys a good exciting story far more than this kind of clever word play.

The basic storyline (though as I will go on to say the story really doesn’t seem to be the point of the book) is that a writer goes to Athens for a summer to teach a summer school in creative writing.  Along the way she has conversations with a number of people, some new acquaintances others people she has met at previous summer schools.  She sort of reflects on these meetings and conversations and we, the readers, get to know a bit about what she is thinking.  None of it rings true (I’m not sure it’s supposed to),  the people don’t come across as real people and the tone is ponderous and repetitive.

I will open a page at random to give you an example, in this scene she is having lunch with an old colleague, (I think this is him speaking although the author doesn’t use speech marks in a conventional way) ;

I realised that my little dream of a publishing house was destined to remain just that, a fantasy, and in fact what that realisation caused me to feel was not so much disappointment at the situation as astonishment at the fantasy itself.  It seemed incredible to me that at the age of fifty-one I was still capable of producing, in all innocence, a completely unrealisable hope.  The human capacity for self-delusion is apparently infinite – and if that is the case, how are we ever meant to know, except by existing in a state of absolute pessimism, that once again we are fooling ourselves? I had thought there was nothing, having lived my whole life in this tragic country, about which I could any longer deceive myself, but as you have so unhappily pointed out, it is the very thing you don’t see, the thing you take for granted, that deceives you.  And how can you even know you have taken something for granted until it is no longer there?

See what I mean?  Nobody talks like that!  And that’s pretty much the style of the whole book.

I guess you are now expecting me to tell you how much I hated this book, but I didn’t   The first chapter I thought ‘what is this?!’ but kept reading because I wanted to find out, after the next couple of chapters I had decided it was pretentious rubbish and to stop reading, I went on to read something else but didn’t return Outline to the library and went back to it.  I started to find it strangely compelling.  I read it very slowly, sort of dipping in and out and reading other things in between.  It sort of reminded me of a wander round an averagely attractive park on a cloudy day that is neither hot nor cold – it’s not an exciting or memorable experience but is nice enough and is quite relaxing and unchallenging.   I don’t really know what else to say.  Perhaps you have to be far cleverer than me to get much out of this book.





Filed under Book Review, books, Libraries, Modern Fiction

2 responses to “Book Review: Outline by Rachel Cusk

  1. Looks like she’s following the advice to write about what you know. But the risk is it might only appeal to those who share that little world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, true. I heard she’s written an adaptation of Medea for the Almeida theatre. Wonder what that will be like. I haven’t been tempted to book tickets as I do get the impression from this one book of hers that she’s just not my kind of writer.


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