OUTLINE by Rachel Cusk

From the Back Cover

OUTLINE is a novel in ten conversations.  Spare and lucid, it follows a novelist teaching a course in creative writing over an oppressively hot summer in Athens.  She leads her students in storytelling exercises.  She meets other visiting writers for dinner.  She goes swimming in the Ionian Sea with her seatmate from the plane.  The people she encounters speak volubly about themselves: their fantasies, anxieties, pet theories, regrets, and longings.  And through these disclosures, a portrait of the narrator is drawn by contrast, a portrait of a woman learning to face a great loss.

My Thoughts

OUTLINE took a hot minute to get into, but once I was in, I was hooked.  Unfortunately, I felt like I finally started to “get” it just in time for it to end, around the halfway point.  The second chunk went down much easier than the first; OUTLINE is one of those novels where you have to be in the right mood in order to pick it up, but it is definitely worth the wait in the end.  It is full of lines I felt the need to read over and over again, in awe of their brilliance and beauty.

“Sometimes it has seemed to me that life is a series of punishments for such moments of unawareness, that one forges one’s own destiny by what one doesn’t notice or feel compassion for; that what you don’t know and don’t make the effort to understand will become the very thing you are forced into knowledge of.”

OUTLINE’s concept is what most intrigues me, even after turning the last page.  It is a novel told in ten conversations, in which the reader learns about Faye, the main character, solely through her interactions with others.  Cusk never writes explicitly about Faye, but rather her many acquaintances as she travels to Athens, teaches a writing course, and reunites with old friends.  It is through these interactions that slices of Faye’s life leak out and the reader is able to grasp onto an idea of who exactly Faye is.  I appreciated Cusk’s innovative storytelling technique; it felt like a breath of fresh air in comparison to some of my more recent reads.

“I felt that I could swim for miles, out into the ocean: a desire for freedom, an impulse to move, tugged at me as though it were a thread fastened to my chest. It was an impulse I knew well, and I had learned that it was not the summons from a larger world I used to believe it to be. It was simply a desire to escape from what I had.”

With all of the buzz surrounding Cusk’s work, specifically the OUTLINE trilogy, I felt an immense amount of pressure to like this novel.  Cusk is a clearly a very intelligent, very observant writer: OUTLINE is overwhelmingly smart, showcasing her mastery of craft.  Though I can’t call OUTLINE a favorite, I am definitely glad I read it.

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