This is not a novel. Well, it is, but it would be better described as a collection of conversations. Outline by Rachel Cusk is a story of an English woman traveling to Greece to teach a writing course. Along the way she records every interaction she experiences from her neighbor on the plane to her Greek students.
“As it happened, I was no longer interested in literature as a form of snobbery or even self-definition. I had no desire to prove that one book was better than another; in fact, if I read something I admired, I found myself increasingly disinclined to mention it at all. What I knew personally to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer, want to persuade anyone of anything.”
I had heard a lot of hype about the first volume of this trilogy, so naturally I decided to give it a shot. I will say that I didn’t really hit a stride with this one until the end. It was simultaneously immersive and lacking. Cusk gives numerous details to make you feel like you’re the one in the conversation with people, but at the same time it never breaks the surface. I ended up wanting more background into the characters because the time with each was so brief.
“I felt that I could swim for miles, out into the ocean: a desire for freedom, an impulse to move, tugged at me as though it were a thread fastened to my chest. It was an impulse I knew well, and I had learned that it was not the summons from a larger world I used to believe it to be. It was simply a desire to escape from what I had.”
The only character you truly spend enough time with is the neighbor from the plane. He regales the narrator with his three failed marriages among other woes. I wasn’t particularly fond of this guy and something felt just off the whole time.
The appeal of this type of storytelling is unique and I do like it, just not as much as I thought I would. If you enjoy more of a conversation based narrative that reads sort of like a diary, then this is the book for you.
“A sentence is born into this world neither good nor bad, and that to establish its character is a question of the subtlest possible adjustments, a process of intuition to which exaggeration and force are fatal.”