A writer goes to Athens to teach a class... and nothing much happens. And yet, I couldn't put this quiet, consuming novel down. Cusk just lets her characters talk, and her narrator listen, and the whole thing comes together in an impressionistic chaos of images and muted longing. Recommended By Eva F., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A luminous, powerful novel that establishes Rachel Cusk as one of the finest writers in the English language
A man and a woman are seated next to each other on a plane. They get to talking—about their destination, their careers, their families. Grievances are aired, family tragedies discussed, marriages and divorces analyzed. An intimacy is established as two strangers contrast their own fictions about their lives.
Rachel Cusks Outline is a novel in ten conversations. Spare and stark, it follows a novelist teaching a course in creative writing during one oppressively hot summer in Athens. She leads her students in storytelling exercises. She meets other visiting writers for dinner and discourse. She goes swimming in the Ionian Sea with her neighbor from the plane. The people she encounters speak volubly about themselves: their fantasies, anxieties, pet theories, regrets, and longings. And through these disclosures, a portrait of the narrator is drawn by contrast, a portrait of a woman learning to face a great loss.
Outline takes a hard look at the things that are hardest to speak about. It brilliantly captures conversations, investigates peoples motivations for storytelling, and questions their ability to ever do so honestly or unselfishly. In doing so it bares the deepest impulses behind the craft of fiction writing. This is Rachel Cusks finest work yet, and one of the most startling, brilliant, original novels of recent years.
Praise for Aftermath
“[I] admire Cusk . . . for the gravity and ruthlessness of her self-examination . . . [Aftermath] is emotionally raw and deeply uncomfortable-making, while also being finely turned as a literary artifact.” —Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker
Praise for Outline
Short-listed for the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize
“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 Ive 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“[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“Cusks uncompromising, often brutal intelligence is at full power. So is her technique . . . I cant 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 Cusks 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“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 Cusks 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 thats 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 Cusks 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 womens 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 authors tale—hold our attention because of Cusks 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 Cusks Outline is full of baking light and quiet melancholy and bodies brushing past one another in the heat; its 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
Rachel Cusk is the author of three memoirs—A Lifes Work, The Last Supper, and Aftermath—and seven novels: Saving Agnes, winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award; The Temporary; The Country Life, which won a Somerset Maugham Award; The Lucky Ones; In the Fold; Arlington Park; and The Bradshaw Variations. She was chosen as one of Grantas 2003 Best of Young British Novelists. She lives in London.