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Book review: Outline by Rachel Cusk

I read Rachel Cusk’s acclaimed trilogy out of order – first Kudos, then Transit, then Outline. I’m not sure whether the trilogy would have been improved by reading it in the correct order, but the fact that I read several other books between these, means that I struggle to remember what happened in the previous in the previous novel, so perhaps it wouldn’t be any different.

One day, I would like to read them consecutively, in the right order, uninterrupted by other books.

Regardless, I found Cusk’s trilogy to truly original and compelling, revealing many truths about life, love and relationships.

In Outline, Cusk’s protagonist, Kaye, travels to Athens to teach a writing course. On her way, she meets a stranger, referred to as her ‘neighbour’ as he sits on the plane beside her. As is typical of the trilogy, the neighbour pours out the story of his life and marriages, including intimate details of why they failed. However, Faye intuits that his representation of his marriage is not the whole story.

The book, and the trilogy, includes many such confessions and renditions, from friends and strangers. Each touches upon a truth that is both in a way surprising and unexceptional. It is very much like listening in on the confidences of strangers, or the confessions heard by a therapist, and it is hard to look away.

Cusk’s writing is intelligent, but also very easy to read, although there are undercurrents in her work that take more effort to explore.

Early on in the book, I noted Cusk’s observation about the safety information relayed by the air steward:

“She showed us the life jacket with its little pipe, the emergency exits, the oxygen mask dangling from a length of clear tubing. She led us through the possibility of death and disaster, as the priest leads the congregation through the details of purgatory and hell; and no one jumped up to escape while there was still time.

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