“People are least aware of others when demonstrating their own power over them.” – Rachel Cusk, Outline
Outline is the first novel by Rachel Cusk that I have read. It is a fairly short contemporary fiction book, but despite its length, it took me way too long to finish it – and here’s why.
The story centers around a woman named Faye, who, when we meet her, is travelling from London to Athens to teach a writing course. On the way there, she strikes up a conversation with a Greek man who has plenty of stories to tell. Throughout the rest of the novel, we get to sit in on Faye’s conversations with the various people she meets in Athens. We gain some insight into her own personal life and see her detailed perspective on the world.
As you can tell, I don’t have much to say about this book. In fact, I’ve never had this little to say about a book. I checked it out of my school library for the summer because the cover page boasted a “Scotiabank Giller Prize Shortlist” sticker and a promise that it was an example of masterful writing. To say the least, I fell for it. I really wanted to read a great Canadian book, or hey, not even great- to be honest, I would have settled for good. Unfortunately, I was bored out of my mind reading this diary-turned-novel. It read like a student’s attempt at a philosophy paper. The only reason why I finished it was because I had some long train rides and nothing to do. And maybe also because I was excited to write a bad review for once on this blog… who am I kidding.
The “main character” is not really much of a main character at all. We learn only a few details of her life- which has the potential to be interesting, but unfortunately left me feeling utterly detached from Faye and her problems. The story went absolutely nowhere. I kept reading, expecting a climax or something, but all I got was another chapter with another drawn-out melancholic conversation between Faye and one of her Greek cohorts. The funny thing is, I found myself most interested in the part of the book where Faye’s students were sharing stories that they’d written for class. The rest of the book was rambling and lacked a grounded plotline. This led to me forgetting the names of supporting characters, and daydreaming while reading.
Admittedly, there are a few lines and ideas that struck a chord with me. The book’s largest overarching theme is womanhood (what it means to be a woman, the responsibilities of women in the modern world, etc.), and with that theme comes a few intriguing ideas, but hardly any of them are expanded upon. The book is stagnant, almost as if it doesn’t know what it is. I would have stopped reading after the first few pages, but it was the only book I could fit in my carry-on bag, so… here we are!
When I finally finished the book, a couple things stuck with me. The first was that I found myself laughing at the title. The book kind of feels like an outline. And if that is what Rachel Cusk was trying to achieve, more power to her. That’s actually pretty genius. I just wish she could have gone about it in a way that was a bit more exciting. The second thing I picked up on was that Faye was probably a reflection of the author- at least on some level- so it felt more like a memoir than a fictional tale. That being said, if I had gone into it expecting a memoir, maybe I would have enjoyed it more.
So many people rave about this story, and I hoped I would have been able to as well. At first, I enjoyed the sort of exploratory style of the story, but it got old fast. I’m starting to think I’m just not the type for philosophy. If that makes me small-minded, so be it. Maybe I’m not asking the right questions, or maybe I’m not giving this book enough of a chance. However, for every wonderful review, there is a scathing one, and that’s what I love about literature. I for one really enjoyed reading other peoples’ reviews- both the ones who loved it and the ones who hated it. I probably won’t be reading any more Rachel Cusk, not because I have some personal vendetta against her, I just have a lot I’d rather be reading (but as the saying goes, never say never). On the bright side, if you have any trouble falling asleep, this novel might do the trick for you.
Thank you for reading my completely negative review! Hope it didn’t put you in a bad mood. I would love to know what you thought of this novel if you’ve read it. Maybe you can change my mind. Happy reading. Xoxo
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