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Arlington Park: A Novel Hardcover – January 9, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Set in a moderately posh suburb of London, acclaimed British novelist Rachel Cusk's Arlington Park is a captivating exploration of how the simple act of living can become an excruciating exercise in self-deprivation, hypocrisy, and desperation. Set over the course of a single day, the novel follows a group of young mothers who feel both anger at the husbands who seemingly imprisoned them in a world of minivans and coffee klatches, and resignation about the fates they seem destined to fulfill.

While Arlington Park may deal in toddlers and tater tots, it is certainly not another generic Mommy Lit clone. Cusk is a skilled writer, and in her hands, a dreary lunch at the mall food court is transformed into "lost property, but for people." As the day progresses, we watch as Juliet chops her hair off in a small, if meaningless act of rebellion, Amanda stifles a burning desire to scream at a neighbor's kid for ruining her white sofa, Maisie blames her parents for not loving her enough while throwing her daughter's lunchbox at the kitchen wall, and Christine stuffs chicken breasts while silently cursing her husband for spending too much time getting ready for a dinner party. In each scene, the oppressiveness is almost unbearable, prompting readers to practically beg these women to flee as far and as fast as is humanely possible.

Of course, in driving her readers to the edge of frustration and outrage, Cusk succeeds in creating a novel that penetrates deeper than most. Still, after turning the last page, you might find yourself reaching for a little Mommy Lit candy to take the edge off. --Gisele Toueg

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this devastating ensemble novel, Whitbread Award–winner Cusk (Saving Agnes) exposes the roiling inner lives and not-so-quiet desperation of young mothers in the well-to-do London suburb Arlington Park. The book's single day begins with an epic rainstorm that wakes part-time private-school English teacher Juliet Randall, who spent the previous evening at a wealthier neighbor's home and was told, in front of husband Benedict, "You want to be careful.... You can start to sound strident at your age." As Amanda Clapp strains to maintain her house's empty perfection, a multi-kid play date gets out of control. Maisie Carrington feels "imprisoned for life" by her frosty, upper-crust childhood, and can barely contain her violent feelings toward her own daughters. Christine Lanham, a newcomer to the class distinction her marriage has brought her, abhors the hypocrisy that surrounds her, but knows she will never leave her family. The story line coils around each woman's home until it gathers the group for a drunken dinner party, where husbands express pleasure with their privilege while fretting that something feels amiss, and children, exhausted by their mothers' alternating neglect and desperate love, sleep like the dead—leaving the women holding hot coals of their silent insights. Their plight is an old story, but Cusk makes it incisively vivid. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374100802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374100803
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,539,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mary Francoise on February 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Or whinge, as the British would say. These irritable housewives, who could be combined into two or even one character(s), seem to have never loved either their husbands or their kids. In love's place is a simmering rage whose source is murky. They seem to have chosen this suburban life for themselves and yet blame the rest of the family for it. Some might see feminists. I saw self-absorbed shrews.

Not nearly as enjoyable as Cusk's previous work, THE LUCKY ONES. The women in ARLINGTON PARK are lucky their husbands put up with them.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kate Smart on February 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Where is Rachel Cusk's editor? Once again, she has written a book that leaves the reader exasperated. Instead of developing a story around the lives of one or two women, she instead features so many characters that they literally blur into one. I have never read a story where all the characters seem so alike; every one of these women is miserable, disillusioned, fed-up with motherhood, and disdainful of her husband. It was like one woman by 10 different names.

I don't know what Rachel Cusk is trying to say; I honestly felt bewildered by it all. It is very difficult to continue reading a book when you cannot stand a single character; these women were repulsive to me - thoughtless, insensitive, unloving. It's one thing to be drained by motherhood and domesticity; that isn't the issue. These women read as though they would have been despicable regardless; as single women, married women, mothers; it doesn't matter. They just aren't nice people.

It makes me wonder if Rachel Cusk is clinically depressed; the photo she chose for the back jacket is shockingly bad: lank greasy hair, dull facial expression. She's a talented writer - I hope she gets a really good editor.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Lostgirl on February 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The first chapter of Arlington Park describes the night a rainstorm came to an upper-middle class British suburb; "All night the rain fell on Arlington Park....The rain fell on the tortuous medieval streets....It fell on the hospital...It fell on multi-storey car parks...." Very nice for atmosphere but shamelessly lifted from the opening of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. The rest of the novel continues in this vein with Rachel Cusk borrowing from the ideas of other writers before her and giving them little or no credit.

Her idea, to explore the internal lives of several women on this particular day is good except the women she creates are all bitter, cold, loveless people who have it all and still complain. We first meet Juliet, a school teacher with a husband, two children, a nice house and yet she inexplicably feels she's been "murdered" by her husband. Why? He doesn't stop her from working. He pitches in with the kids. How does he murder her? We never know. Yet this angry worldview is something that Juliet feels duty-bound to pass onto her students. Other characters are even less sympathetic; Amanda is a compulsively neat housewife who tells her preschool age son to "shut up" when he asks questions and when she does give him an explanation we're told "she wanted to hammer him over the head with it". Later, when another child gets magic marker on her sofa her reaction is equally violent: "'I could kill you!' she whispered. 'I could kill you!' She threw him back down on the cushions" How on earth are we supposed to sympathize with this woman? Or other "protagonists" are equally unlikeable. Each is discontent and expects the world to bend over backwards to accomodate her.

I'm giving this book 2 stars for some nice prose here and there. When she's not lifting her phrasing from other writers Rachel Cusk crafts her prose nicely. Still this book isn't enoyable or particularly enlightening.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By culturecritic on June 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I recently read "The Country Life" and immediately decided it was one of the most clever, funny books I had read in a long time. I passed it on to many friends. I also went out and bought other Rachel Cusk books and looked forward to more of her wry wit, strange characters and lengthy, but satisfying writing style. What happened between "The Country Life" and this book? Although also skillfully written, this book has a leaden, morose feeling that is never offset enough by humor or hope. The plot ties together the lives of several upper middle class young mothers living in Arlington Park, England. The book opens with a torrential rain, and from there has these ladies driving around in hatchbacks, going to malls, showing off their kitchens, and fuming over stained sofas. Not stuff that puts you the edge of your seat. And that's OK. But the problem is, not only is the setting of these ladies lives mundane in this book, it is a backdrop to extremely sad and bewildered conversations and thoughts. I am not suggesting that everything needs to be funny or sunny, but this book is SO gray (from the rain to the lives of the characters) that as you go from one chapter to then next you keep hoping for the silver lining. The gray life and the poignant conversation would have made a satisfying short story or novella, but as you plod through farther into this book it becomes overbearing. Boring settings for characters + depressing narrative = gets old fast. Written well or not. I got 75% through and when it had not appeared I did something I hate doing - I stopped reading it before finishing. If you are a die hard Cusk fan, check this out, but if you are not, or if you can't relate to, or don't find suburban motherhood angst interesting, you may want to read some of her other works. Rachel Cusk is a very gifted writer. I look forward to reading more of her work, and hope to enjoy it more than this book.
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