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Outline, Rachel Cusk, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2014, 249 pp
I have long intended to read Rachel Cusk and was impelled to get started by fellow blogger Dorothy at The Nature of Things through her reviews of Outline and Transit, the first two of the author's planned trilogy.
It is hard to explain how mesmerizing Outline is. There is no plot in the conventional sense. A woman named Faye is on her way by airplane to teach a summer course in writing in Athens. Her seatmate, a small mature Greek man, seeks to engage her in conversation. When she tells him her reason for visiting Athens, he replies that he hopes she will be near water as it will be very hot. It is very hot throughout the book, as though the heat itself were a character.
Cusk writes, in Faye's voice, "I said I was afraid that was not the case, and he raised his eyebrows, which were silver and grew unexpectedly coarsely and wildly from his forehead, like grasses in a rocky place. It was this eccentricity that had made me answer him. The unexpected sometimes looks like a prompting of fate."
Indeed, the Greek gentleman continues to appear throughout the story. By the end, we and Faye know his entire life story. And so it goes. Chapter after chapter, people appear before or next to Faye and tell her all about themselves without much curiosity about the woman herself.
By the end, Faye has become a fairly rounded out character and one with whom I felt a strange bond. Her life, her personality, is revealed however only through her responses to the people she listens to. Somehow, I learned that Faye had a recently broken marriage and two children left behind in London, but it must have been something she said to one or more of the people she listened to.
You see, I go on and on but I cannot quite explain how Rachel Cusk managed to create such a beguiling novel full of the rich stories of the people Faye meets and the students she teaches, while seeming only to listen to them talk. All I know is that I felt so much empathy for her, as if I had known her for a long time. I am beyond relieved to know that Faye is also the narrator of the next book, because the minute I finished this one, I was already missing her.
(Outline is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)