Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Outline by Rachel Cusk

A woman arrives in Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Once there, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.
Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voices begins to weave a complex human tapestry: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.

This was an interesting novel to read as the main character actually plays a very small part in the story although is the linchpin which holds the narrative of the stories told to her by other people together.

Rachel Cusk is a very skilled writer which she demonstrates on every page. In a lesser writers hands this book could have been presented as a collection of short stories but Ms Cusk elevates her book by the fascinating way she has structured the story. 

This works so well because it enables the reader to listen to the stories that are being told to her without her interpretation and thus made me listen for myself. This enabled me to form my own judgments and to become part of the story. I suspect that every reader of this book will come away with a different view of the people and the stories told.

I do not remember reading anything quite like this book before so cannot compare it to others. It completely defies the boundaries of genre and therefore will appeal to many.

Having said that, I think this novel might well divide readers as I am not sure that this book would be to everybody’s taste (although that is true of most books.) What I am certain about is that the author has structured this novel uniquely and skillfully that it is no surprise to me that it has made it onto the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist.

I would encourage you to give this one a read. Please do let me know what you think of it.

ISBN:  978 1784702441

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Price: (paperback released tomorrow 7th May): £8.99

About the Author:  

Rachel Cusk was born in 1967 and is the author of eight novels: Saving Agnes, which won the Whitbread First Novel Award, The Temporary, The Country Life, which won a Somerset Maugham Award,The Lucky Ones, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award, In the Fold, Arlington Park, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, The Bradshaw Variations and Outline. Her non-fiction books are A Life's Work, The Last Supper and Aftermath. In 2003 she was chosen as one of Granta's Best of Young Novelists.


  1. You do make it sound enticing, although I'm never sure about novels made up of short stories. But I have enjoyed one of her earlier novels, so maybe I ought to give this one a go!

  2. I am not a great lover of short stories either so was a bit wary of this novel. However, the author writes so skillfully that I really enjoyed it. Do let me know what you think of it if you give it a read.