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Outline: A Novel (Outline Trilogy, 1) Paperback – February 9, 2016
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"In An Instant" by Suzanne Redfearn
A deeply moving story of carrying on even when it seems impossible. | Learn more
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“[A] lethally intelligent novel . . . reading Outline mimics the sensation of being underwater, of being separated from other people by a substance denser than air. But there is nothing blurry or muted about Cusk's literary vision or her prose: Spend much time with this novel and you'll become convinced that she is one of the smartest writers alive.” ―Heidi Julavits, The New York Times Book Review
“Outline is a poised and cerebral novel that has little in the way of straightforward plot yet is transfixing in its unruffled awareness of the ways we love and leave each other, and of what it means to listen to other people . . . While little happens in Outline, everything seems to happen. You find yourself pulling the novel closer to your face, as if it were a thriller and the hero were dangling over a snake pit.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“[Outline] is mesmerizing; it makes a sharp break from the conventional style of Cusk's previous work . . . Outline feels different, its world porous and continuous with ours, though not for the reasons we might expect.” ―Elaine Blair, The New Yorker
“[A] quietly radical new novel . . . The result, which recalls Karl Ove Knausgaard in its effort to melt away the comforting artifice of fiction, is a kind of photonegative portrait of a women who resists concessions in life and art.” ―Megan O'Grady, Vogue
“There are dozens of observations in Outline unexpected enough to stop you on the page . . . Outline has a terribly charged atmosphere, the kind very few novels achieve.” ―Charles Finch, The Chicago Tribune
“[A] remarkably original novel . . . [which] offers a bracing indictment of the sentimentality that surrounds the making of art and artistic identity.” ―Emily Rapp, Boston Globe
“[Outline] teems with provoking, fascinating ideas expressed in fine, apothegmatic prose.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Cusk's restrained, almost experimental prose is really not so much a novel as a meditation on identity, illusion, and the erausre of self that can occur during a marriage.” ―Isabella Bledenharn, Entertainment Weekly (A-)
“Outline, in the most seemingly effortless way imaginable, winds up being completely captivating: the conversations are autobiographies in miniature, with all the holes, lies and self-deceptions lurking in that wily form . . . As you'd expect in a novel so obsessed with language, Cusk's own writing is a pleasure to read -- unfailingly precise and surprising . . . The ultimate and undeniably cerebral pleasure of Outline is it nudges you into being a more attentive reader and listener, more alert to the cracks in sentences and the messier realities that words can only try to contain.” ―Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
“Intriguing, unsettling.” ―People
“Intense, engrossing . . . Outline feels like a significant achievement.” ―Meghan O'Rourke, Slate
“Cusk has crafted another captivating vessel for her thoughts on gender, power and storytelling.” ―Boris Kachka, New York Magazine
“Interesting and beautifully written . . . The narrator's emotions about her divorce are evinced only by stories about other people's marriages and relationships. The melancholy and dignity of this approach are, by the end, quite profound.” ―Marion Wink, Newsday
“A highly sophisticated and deeply affecting look at modern womanhood; but for all its introspection, there's no shortage of wordly, self-deprecating wit, making this read equal parts intellectually challenging and distinctly pleasurable.” ―Caroline Goldstein, Bustle
“Cusk spares us from pontification or lofty theorizing, instead couching each conversation in sharp and incisive anecdote. Characters off-stage are palpable, memories unfold with care and precision, and each interlocutor brims with self-reflection . . . Faye's perception, her deft attention, and her exquisite intereference and interpretation make each conversation an arresting and piercing experience for the reader.” ―Cecily Sailer, Dallas Morning News
“[An] audacious narrative experiment.” ―Valerie Miner, San Francisco Chronicle
“Outline succeeds powerfully. Among other things, it gets a great variety of human beings down on to the page with both immediacy and depth; an elemental pleasure that makes the book as gripping to read as a thriller . . . a stellar accomplishment.” ―James Lasdun, The Guardian
“[T]his has to be one of the oddest, most breathtakingly original and unsettling novels I've read in a long time ... [E]very single word is earned, precisely tuned, enthralling. Outline is a triumph of attitude and daring, a masterclass in tone.” ―Julie Myerson, The Observer
“Outline. It defies ordinary categorisation. It is about authorial invisibility, it involves writing without showing your face. The narrator is a writer who goes to teach creative writing in Greece and becomes enmeshed in other peoples' narratives which Cusk stitches, with fastidious brilliance, into a single fabric.” ―Kate Kellaway, The Guardian
“Winter bouquets should be offered to the clever and stylish Rachel Cusk: her novel Outline is smoothly accomplished, and fascinating both on the surface and in its depths.” ―Hilary Mantel, The Guardian's Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014
“[Outline is] a piece of work of great beauty and ambition. Narratives are smoothed, as if by translation and retranslation, into their simplest, barest elements: parents, children, divorces, cakes, dresses, dogs. These elements then build, layer on layer, to form the most complex and exquisitely detailed patterns, swirling and whirling, wheels within wheels.” ―Jenny Turner, London Review of Books
“[T]he most compelling part of Outline is its undercurrent of rage . . . [With] polished, analytical language. Cusk's writing is lovely . . . Outline is a smart ascetic exercise.” ―Hannah Tennant-Moore, Bookforum
“Each sentence of Cusk's prose is a revelation about the truths that remain unknowable.” ―Brigit Katz, Flavorwire
“[A] uniquely graceful and innovative piece of artistic self-possession, which achieves the rare feat of seamlessly amalgamating form and substance.” ―Lucy Scholes, The Independent
“Cusk's uncompromising, often brutal intelligence is at full power. So is her technique . . . I can't think of a book that so powerfully resists summary or review . . . Inevitably, the only way to get close to the fascinating and elusive core of Outline is to read it.” ―Sophie Elmhirst, Financial Times
“Never less than compelling . . . material that might have been ponderous in other hands is, here, magnetic, thanks to the mystery at the heart of Cusk's book, her exquisite lightness of touch and her glinting wit.” ―Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail
“A brilliant, perceptive novel, Outline was serialised in its entirety by the Paris Review, which is probably a lot cooler than making the Man Booker shortlist.” ―Paddy Kehoe, RTÉ
“Rachel Cusk breaks all the rules of creative writing . . . [Outline] captivates.” ―Arifa Akbar, The Independent
“Outline is an expertly crafted portrait that asks readers to look deeply into the text for discovery. Those who accept that challenge will be rewarded for the effort.” ―Booklist (Starred review)
“This brilliant novel from Cusk . . . shuns fictional convention and frills in favor of a solid structure around a seris of dialogues . . . These 10 remarkable conversations, told with immense control, focus a sharp eye on how we discuss family and our lives.” ―Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
“A book whose almost dream-like quality has razor-sharp edges.” ―Sofka Zinovieff, Spectator
“Cool but compelling, narrow in focus perhaps, but deep in thought.” ―Lesley McDowell, The Scotsman
“An utterly engaging examination of human relationships . . . a compelling read that never once flags.” ―The Crack
“Described as a 'novel in ten conversations' . . . it turns out to be a clever, fresh device that dispenses with the need for much of a plot and presents instead more of a lush human collage . . . a rich, thoughtful read.” ―Carol Midgley, The Times
“Sharply observed . . . everyone the narrator meets has a vivid presence.” ―Suzi Feay, Literary Review
“The writing is brilliant . . . Cusk is always cerebral but I've never noticed her drollery before . . . absorbing, thought-provoking.” ―Claire Harman, London Evening Standard
“Cusk confounds expectations . . . Outline is full of such wonderful surprises: subtle shifts in power and unexpectedly witty interludes.” ―Elena Seymenliyska, The Telegraph
“This book about love, loss, memory, and the lies we tell ourselves and others exudes a contemplative, melancholy atmosphere tempered by Britsh author Cusk's wonderfully astute observations of people and the visual impressions created by her exquisitely strucutred sentences.” ―Sally Bissell, Library Journal
“Outline is a quiet, profound book about the problems of living with a sense of purpose.” ―Johanna Thomas-Corr, Metro
“A tapestry of different voices, its shape emerging as if by happy accident . . . [Outline] is a clever thought experiment that's far too readable ever to feel like one.” ―Lidija Haas, The Independent on Sunday
“Cusk returns to fiction and top form in a novel about the stories we tell ourselves and others . . . rich in human variety and unsentimental empathy.” ―Kirkus
“Like the Higgs boson, which appears only when bombarded by electrons, Rachel Cusk's nearly nameless narrator flickers into visibility only through her encounters with a series of amazingly eloquent and fascinating interlocutors. Writing at the highest level and with the greatest technical restraint, Cusk manages to describe the painful realities of women's lives by a process of erasure that is itself responsible for that suffering. This is a novel where form and content meld so perfectly as to collapse into each other. I am so much the better for having read it. As if someone finally told me the truth by telling me everything, and nothing.” ―Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Marriage Plot
“On a flight to Greece where she is going to be teaching a creative writing class, the narrator begins talking to her neighbour. More accurately, initiating a pattern that will be repeated throughout the encounters and ‘conversations' that make up this hypnotic, funny and unsettling novel, he talks at her. Gradually her own identity emerges in response to--is given shape by--what is said to her. As one of her students puts it, the story constitutes a series of events she finds herself involved in, but on which she seems to have ‘absolutely no influence at all.' The irony, of course, is that all of these tales--the author's tale--hold our attention because of Cusk's unerring command of pace and tone.” ―Geoff Dyer
“Outline, in outline, tells the story of a British novelist newly arrived in Athens, who has been enlisted to teach a weeklong writing seminar. Upon this provocatively slight premise, Cusk has constructed a restrained, incisive narrative of high stylistic polish and stealthy emotional power. Formally inventive, astringently intellectual, and linguistically assured, Outline poses the question of where stories come from; it shows, with glittering clarity, why they matter.” ―Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch
“I opened this book, and read a page, and then a few more pages, and I finished Outline before a day and a half had passed, and I am the slowest reader I know, and I have never felt guilty about not finishing a book. Outline is amazing. It changes the lighting on the charismatic, mad, maddening monologues so beloved in literature; here we are, on the previously invisible other side of it, seeing something brilliant and irremediably true.” ―Rivka Galchen, author of American Innovations
“Rachel Cusk's Outline is full of baking light and quiet melancholy and bodies brushing past one another in the heat; it's a subtle and utterly engrossing exploration of the ways we make ourselves known to one another--in stories and anecdotes, through seductions and disputes--and yet remain opaque; how we sketch ourselves as outlines and find these outlines interrogated. Its conversations echo each other deftly, their acute insights gracefully pulling apart the seams of its carefully composed characters to show glimpses of much messier selves within: a series of searing psychic X-rays bleached by coastal light.” ―Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams
About the Author
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250081548
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250081544
- Dimensions : 5.44 x 0.66 x 8.16 inches
- Publisher : Picador; Reprint edition (February 9, 2016)
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As far as the narrator's own story goes we only superficially learn that something has befallen her (divorce?, horrible accident?). Her children are mentioned, a husband, but it's all clouded in so much London fog. Not until we begin to see Faye's experience revealed through other peoples stories - perspectives - and her reactions to them does the reader get the sense that Faye is lost; not so much holding back as not knowing how to portray herself any longer.
One night, she dines out with a colleague and one of his clients, a newly successful novelist named Angeliki. Faye soon gets an earful on the subject of women's identities in the family structure:
"‘For many women,’she said, ‘having a child is their central experience of creativity, and yet the child will never remain a created object; unless,’ she said, ‘the mother’s sacrifice of herself is absolute, which mine never could have been, and which no woman’s ought to be these days. My own mother lived through me in a way that was completely uncritical,’ she said, ‘and the consequence was that I came into adulthood unprepared for life, because nobody saw me as important in the way she did, which was the way I was used to being seen. And then you meet a man who thinks you’re important enough to marry you, so it seems right that you should say yes. But it is when you have a baby that the feeling of importance really returns,’ she said, with growing passion, ‘except that one day you realise that all this –the house, the husband, the child –isn’t importance after all, in fact it is the exact opposite: you have become a slave, obliterated!'"
We start to get the idea, a hint, of the shape of Faye's life as she tentatively befriends the older gentleman, her neighbor on the plane trip over. He invites her out for an excursion on his small motor boat (downsized from a yacht, post divorce). While swimming she spies a family on another nearby vessel; children diving into the water, the mother in a sunhat reading a book, the husband pacing on the deck speaking into his cell. Faye reflects:
"I was beginning to see my own fears and desires manifested outside myself, was beginning to see in other people’s lives a commentary on my own. When I looked at the family on the boat, I saw a vision of what I no longer had: I saw something, in other words, that wasn’t there. Those people were living in their moment, and though I could see it I could no more return to that moment than I could walk across the water that separated us. And of those two ways of living – living in the moment and living outside it – which was the more real?"
Though part of a cycle, Cusk does not leave Outline open-ended, rather she pulls it together, closes gaps and circles back. Faye meets the woman who will replace her at the summer school and will be staying in the same time-shared apartment: Anne. Anne relates an incident of her own, and in so doing reveals an experience similar to Faye's in which she strikes up a conversation with her neighbor, a diplomat stationed in Athens, on the flight to Greece:
"He was describing, she realised, a distinction that seemed to grow clearer and clearer the more he talked, a distinction he stood on one side of while she, it became increasingly apparent, stood on the other. He was describing, in other words, what she herself was not: in everything he said about himself, she found in her own nature a corresponding negative. This anti-description, for want of a better way of putting it, had made something clear to her by a reverse kind of exposition: while he talked she began to see herself as a shape, an outline , with all the detail filled in around it while the shape itself remained blank. Yet this shape, even while its content remained unknown, gave her for the first time since the incident a sense of who she now was."
Thus the author forces Faye to blatantly confront her own malaise, that which can only be revealed through other's stories, borne vicariously through other's lives; mirrored by how other's see the world, leaving an outline to be completed.
Great read, many, many insights.
On the one hand the thesis of this novel is that we are all novelists struggling to name the meaning of our lives, and doing so through our interactions with others and with other objects. On the other hand, the deck is stacked against us, as it were, because others almost never recognise us as we recognise ourselves and our recognitions are always changing. The outline that is the governing metaphor of the book is the best we can hope for the intelligibility of our selves, but even here the outline resists both the security of embodiment and the stasis of knowledge, even as it is shaped by desire and fantasy, without which even it threatens to dissipate.
This is a brilliantly conceived and executed book—beautifully written, capturing so many insightful details of human life that speak for themselves as she describes them. I read it at almost one sitting, and now intend to read it again, not because I'm afraid I missed anything, but simply to savor it all.
Top reviews from other countries
I read it on holiday and hated it. I persisted but it really put me in a bad mood. I found myself getting wound up by minor things like Cusk’s repeated use of the word ‘bitterer’ instead of ‘more bitter’ for example, and she also seems to think Ireland is part of the British Isles, which wound me up further. The characters have little to redeem them, there is no plot and it comes across as quite vain and narcissistic.
I really wanted to like this, given the number of recommendations in the papers and on Twitter, but I can only assume that the author’s friends have written them.
The first two male characters are nameless. The first she refers to as the ‘billionaire’ the second who features predominately, is referred to as the ‘neighbough’. The billionaire has lunch with the narrator and completely outlines his life story — not leaving time to discuss the literary magazine he was thinking of starting up. The ‘neighbough,' who she initially sits next to on the aeroplane, tells the narrator his complete life story from his schooling to his failed marriages. He then later goes on to make a clumsy pass at her aboard his boat during the second of their two rendezvous.
The first named character is Ryan, another writer who is teaching alongside her at the summer school. Ryan comes across as an unlikeable character. Cusk achieves this by describing how he chooses to walk on the inside of the pavement, whilst explaining he doesn't want to be a road casualty statistic — leaving the narrator to walk on the busy roadside. He also shares his life story whilst leering at a young waitress, then justify’s himself by announcing ‘my wife eyeballs the fellas.’ Cusk (2015,p.45) Ryan later finds the narrators friend Elena attractive, but quickly makes his excuses to leave when he hears they are meeting Melete a pre-eminent lesbian poet.
The next character to open up to the narrator is divorced Paniotis. An old writer friend quickly followed by Angeliki, a successful author. Angeliki sees herself as a spokesperson for suffering womanhood, but ironically claims she is afraid when traveling to new and familiar cities without her husband. Both discuss distancing relations with their children. The narrators own children only contact her fleetingly when they want something. Cusk writes about a few of the students at the summer school who vary in personality and neuroses.
Cusk demonstrates that the narrator is a judgemental and unfriendly character when she writes ‘it was this eccentricity that had made me answer him’ Cusk (2015,p.6) implying that if the ‘neighbough’ wasn't eccentric she would have refused to answer him. The narrator is a contrarian and doesn't hold back voicing her thoughts on other peoples lives. She is sharp and intelligent and judges conversation as though she is critiquing a book. ‘I remained dissatisfied by the story…lacked objectivity…relied too heavily on extremes…the moral properties it ascribed to those extremes were often incorrect.’ Cusk (2015,p.29) This demonstrates the narrator takes things literally when listening to dialogue and constantly looks for flaws and consequently finds them. The narrator is a woman of few spoken words and appears to have a mystical presence that when people meet her they openly share their life story. Allowing the narrator to judge their stories for preciseness and bias.
Throughout Outline there is a strong theme of failed relationships. Cusk, an author and divorcee wrote Aftermath (2012) a controversial book detailing her own separation and divorce which received much criticism. Previously Cusk wrote A life's work (2001) a frank and honest book about her becoming a mother. Outline seems to be somewhat of an amalgamation of these concepts, maybe hinting at an autobiographical element. Cusk certainly seems to have written what she knows and the reflective and argumentative side of the narrator is of no surprise when armed with this knowledge.
As a writer I find Cusk has bravely laid out her soul in her books and I am surprised that this has not left her feeling exposed or vulnerable. I hesitate as to whether I could dare to do the same. Sharing a short poem of brutal-inner honesty, is just about cringingly manageable. Someone reading an entire novel of me philosophically musing about my relationships, and their total and utter failure is like being stood nailed, and naked on a brightly lit church pulpit. Could I?
The narrator only gradually comes into being as the stories other tell bounce off her, creating the 'outline' of the title. Flawless writing, hypnotic reading.
Reading this suggested that one of the reasons why was that I found her characters less than believable insofar as their conversations, their willingness to discuss their lives and their mistakes, so very articulately, never rang true. Throughout the book I was aware of reading a novel - a very well-observed and beautifully-written novel - written by someone who revels in doing so, but whose failure to create believable scenarios forever felt like an exercise in doing so, rather than creating a world her characters inhabited.