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Book review: Kudos by Rachel Cusk

Young journos are famously advised to start their stories as if they are telling their best friend the most exciting thing that has happened that day.

Rachel Cusk’s widely celebrated book, Kudos, reminded me of this advice. The novel is written in a way that positions Cusk as the listener as those who she encounters provide her with a synopsis of what might be the most interesting or strangest thing that has happened to them – you could say, the first line of their news article.

It is a style that has been hailed as revelatory, exposing the truth of human relationships and storytelling itself.

The first confessor who Cusk encounters is a stranger sitting next to her on a plane. The man speaks of his reaction when his family’s dog dies, and his words are strangely compelling. Later, as a woman speaks about her envy of her friend, and her delight in that friend’s misfortune, I was drawn into the story by her blunt honesty.

So it is with all of the people who speak to Cusk. They talk about their life-changing experiences and often unpalatable behaviour with resignation, as surprising as they initially found these experiences to be.

Kudos is not for people who enjoy a plot or a mystery, or any kind of resolution. There is no redemption, no love stories or heart wrenching losses.

Perhaps that is why critics consider Kudos to be so revolutionary. Its style and structure, and that of the two other books in the series that have come before it, are new and undefinable. I have read the first, Transit, but have not read Outline, and perhaps my reading of Kudos suffered for the omission.

However, I enjoyed the experience of reading it, in the way that it is strangely pleasurable to hear about the dramas in the lives of others. It is written like a whispered secret or admission, an intimacy in which it is nice to be included.

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