Summary and book reviews of Outline by Rachel Cusk

Outline

A Novel

by Rachel Cusk

Outline by Rachel Cusk X
Outline by Rachel Cusk
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2015, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2016, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sinéad Fitzgibbon
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About this Book

Book Summary

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 Cusk's 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 people's 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 Cusk's finest work yet, and one of the most startling, brilliant, original novels of recent years.

Excerpt
Outline

Before the flight I was invited for lunch at a London club with a billionaire I'd been promised had liberal credentials. He talked in his open-necked shirt about the new software he was developing, that could help organisations identify the employees most likely to rob and betray them in the future. We were meant to be discussing a literary magazine he was thinking of starting up: unfortunately I had to leave before we arrived at that subject. He insisted on paying for a taxi to the airport, which was useful since I was late and had a heavy suitcase.

The billionaire had been keen to give me the outline of his life story, which had begun unprepossessingly and ended – obviously – with him being the relaxed, well-heeled man who sat across the table from me today. I wondered whether in fact what he wanted now was to be a writer, with the literary magazine as his entrée. A lot of people want to be writers: there was no reason to think you couldn't...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Outline bears all the hallmarks of Rachel Cusk at her best. The finely crafted prose reveals a virtuosity in her command of language which is rendered with an admirable lightness of touch. The nature of life, love, and loss are recurring themes throughout her work and in Outline they are as insightfully explored as ever. This is a fiercely intelligent, emotionally intuitive novel. While at times its sheer profundity can be overwhelming, if not a little intimidating, this book has something to offer anyone who has discovered, like the narrator and her interlocutors, that "there is no such thing as life without pain."..continued

Full Review (608 words).

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(Reviewed by Sinéad Fitzgibbon).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
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.

The Observer (UK)
[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.

The Independent (UK)
[A] uniquely graceful and innovative piece of artistic self-possession, which achieves the rare feat of seamlessly amalgamating form and substance.

Financial Times (UK)
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.

The Daily Mail (UK)
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.

Library Journal
This book about love, loss, memory, and the lies we tell ourselves and others exudes a contemplative, melancholy atmosphere tempered by British author Cusk's wonderfully astute observations of people and the visual impressions created by her exquisitely structured sentences.

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. These 10 remarkable conversations, told with immense control, focus a sharp eye on how we discuss family and our lives.

Reader Reviews

Cariola

A Fine COllection of Interwoven Stories
Outline begins when a woman on a plane bound for Athens is prodded into conversation by the man sitting next to her, who narrates the history of his failed marriages. We learn that the never-named woman, a writer, has been invited to teach a creative...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Made in Greece

In choosing to set Outline in Athens, Rachel Cusk is the latest in a long line of authors, poets and playwrights who have gravitated toward or drawn inspiration from Greece - its geography, its history and its vast canon of ancient writings.

The tradition of Grecian influence on literature began over two thousand years ago when the scribes of the Roman Empire began to borrow heavily from their earlier Greek counterparts. The plays of Plautus, for example, were influenced markedly by Ancient Greek comedies while the Roman poet Catullus adapted Greek lyrical verse into Latin. Indeed, Latin translations of Grecian literature remained popular until medieval times. And let's not forget perhaps the most enduring original poetic work of the ...

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