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Outline
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Outline

3.3 4
by Rachel Cusk
 

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A Finalist for the Folio Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
One of The New York Times' Top Ten Books of the Year
Named a A New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, Vogue, NPR, The Guardian,

Overview

A Finalist for the Folio Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
One of The New York Times' Top Ten Books of the Year
Named a A New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, Vogue, NPR, The Guardian, The Independent, Glamour, and The Globe and Mail

Outline is a novel in ten conversations. Spare and lucid, it follows a novelist teaching a course in creative writing over an oppressively hot summer in Athens. She leads her students in storytelling exercises. She meets other visiting writers for dinner. 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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] lethally intelligent novel . . . reading Outline mimics the sensation of being underwater, of being separated from other people by a substance denser than air. But there is nothing blurry or muted about Cusk's literary vision or her prose: Spend much time with this novel and you'll become convinced that she is one of the smartest writers alive.” —Heidi Julavits, The New York Times Book Review

Outline is a poised and cerebral novel that has little in the way of straightforward plot yet is transfixing in its unruffled awareness of the ways we love and leave each other, and of what it means to listen to other people . . . While little happens in Outline, everything seems to happen. You find yourself pulling the novel closer to your face, as if it were a thriller and the hero were dangling over a snake pit.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“[Outline] is mesmerizing; it makes a sharp break from the conventional style of Cusk's previous work . . . Outline feels different, its world porous and continuous with ours, though not for the reasons we might expect.” —Elaine Blair, The New Yorker

“[A] quietly radical new novel . . . The result, which recalls Karl Ove Knausgaard in its effort to melt away the comforting artifice of fiction, is a kind of photonegative portrait of a women who resists concessions in life and art.” —Megan O'Grady, Vogue

“There are dozens of observations in Outline unexpected enough to stop you on the page . . . Outline has a terribly charged atmosphere, the kind very few novels achieve.” —Charles Finch, The Chicago Tribune

“[A] remarkably original novel . . . [which] offers a bracing indictment of the sentimentality that surrounds the making of art and artistic identity.” —Emily Rapp, Boston Globe

“[Outline] teems with provoking, fascinating ideas expressed in fine, apothegmatic prose.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Cusk's restrained, almost experimental prose is really not so much a novel as a meditation on identity, illusion, and the erausre of self that can occur during a marriage.” —Isabella Bledenharn, Entertainment Weekly (A-)

Outline, in the most seemingly effortless way imaginable, winds up being completely captivating: the conversations are autobiographies in miniature, with all the holes, lies and self-deceptions lurking in that wily form . . . As you'd expect in a novel so obsessed with language, Cusk's own writing is a pleasure to read -- unfailingly precise and surprising . . . The ultimate and undeniably cerebral pleasure of Outline is it nudges you into being a more attentive reader and listener, more alert to the cracks in sentences and the messier realities that words can only try to contain.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

“Intriguing, unsettling.” —People

“Intense, engrossing . . . Outline feels like a significant achievement.” —Meghan O'Rourke, Slate

“Cusk has crafted another captivating vessel for her thoughts on gender, power and storytelling.” —Boris Kachka, New York Magazine

“Interesting and beautifully written . . . The narrator's emotions about her divorce are evinced only by stories about other people's marriages and relationships. The melancholy and dignity of this approach are, by the end, quite profound.” —Marion Wink, Newsday

“A highly sophisticated and deeply affecting look at modern womanhood; but for all its introspection, there's no shortage of wordly, self-deprecating wit, making this read equal parts intellectually challenging and distinctly pleasurable.” —Caroline Goldstein, Bustle

“Cusk spares us from pontification or lofty theorizing, instead couching each conversation in sharp and incisive anecdote. Characters off-stage are palpable, memories unfold with care and precision, and each interlocutor brims with self-reflection . . . Faye's perception, her deft attention, and her exquisite intereference and interpretation make each conversation an arresting and piercing experience for the reader.” —Cecily Sailer, Dallas Morning News

“[An] audacious narrative experiment.” —Valerie Miner, San Francisco Chronicle

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 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.” —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

“Winter bouquets should be offered to the clever and stylish Rachel Cusk: her novel Outline is smoothly accomplished, and fascinating both on the surface and in its depths.” —Hilary Mantel, The Guardian's Writers Pick the Best Books of 2014

“[Outline is] a piece of work of great beauty and ambition. Narratives are smoothed, as if by translation and retranslation, into their simplest, barest elements: parents, children, divorces, cakes, dresses, dogs. These elements then build, layer on layer, to form the most complex and exquisitely detailed patterns, swirling and whirling, wheels within wheels.” —Jenny Turner, London Review of Books

“[T]he most compelling part of Outline is its undercurrent of rage . . . [With] polished, analytical language. Cusk's writing is lovely . . . Outline is a smart ascetic exercise.” —Hannah Tennant-Moore, Bookforum

“Each sentence of Cusk's prose is a revelation about the truths that remain unknowable.” —Brigit Katz, Flavorwire

“[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

“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.” —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 Cusk's 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

“Rachel Cusk breaks all the rules of creative writing . . . [Outline] captivates.” —Arifa Akbar, The Independent

Outline is an expertly crafted portrait that asks readers to look deeply into the text for discovery. Those who accept that challenge will be rewarded for the effort.” —Booklist (Starred review)

“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 Cusk's 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 that's 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 Cusk's 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 women's 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 author's tale--hold our attention because of Cusk's 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 Cusk's Outline is full of baking light and quiet melancholy and bodies brushing past one another in the heat; it's 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

The Guardian's Writers Pick the Best Books of 201 Hilary Mantel

Winter bouquets should be offered to the clever and stylish Rachel Cusk: her novel Outline is smoothly accomplished, and fascinating both on the surface and in its depths.
The New York Times Book Review - Heidi Julavits
…lethally intelligent…While the narrator is rarely alone, reading Outline mimics the sensation of being underwater, of being separated from other people by a substance denser than air. But there is nothing blurry or muted about Cusk's literary vision or her prose: Spend much time with this novel and you'll become convinced she is one of the smartest writers alive. Her narrator's mental clarity can seem so hazardously penetrating, a reader might fear the same risk of invasion and exposure. Cusk is also—this sounds ridiculous—but she is also noticeably an adult. She writes about adult topics with sagacity and authority. Well-worn subjects—adultery, divorce, ennui—become freshly menacing under her gaze.
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
…a poised and cerebral novel that has little in the way of straightforward plot yet is transfixing in its unruffled awareness of the ways we love and leave each other, and of what it means to listen to other people…While little happens in Outline, everything seems to happen. You find yourself pulling the novel closer to your face, as if it were a thriller and the hero were dangling over a snake pit. This is largely because the small conversations and monologues in Outline are, at their best, as condensed and vivid as theater…Ms. Cusk marshals a lot of gifts in this novel, and they are unconventional ones. With no straightforward narrative to hang onto, no moving in and out of rooms, she's left with the sound of her own mind, and it's a mind that is subtle, precise, melancholy. This is a novel with no wasted motion…Outline is a palate cleanser, an authoritative bit of clarifying acid, here when needed.
Publishers Weekly
★ 10/27/2014
On an airplane to Athens, Greece, where she plans to teach a summer school course, English writer Faye strikes up a conversation with the passenger sitting next to her, a verbose elderly gentleman. The two chat for the entire flight, and days later, Faye allows the man to take her swimming aboard his boat, where she learns about his multiple marriages and troubled children. Thus begins this brilliant novel from Cusk (The Bradshaw Variations),who shuns fictional convention and frills in favor of a solid structure around a series of dialogues between Faye and those she encounters on her travels. While dining with old friends on two separate occasions, she hears tales of literary stalkers and near-death experiences. And within her classroom, students recount their own histories: from family pets to daily routines. Though Faye often functions as the sounding board, the reader nevertheless comes to know her—divorcée, mother—through her interjections and inquiries. These 10 remarkable conversations, told with immense control, focus a sharp eye on how we discuss family and our lives. As Faye bounces from one happenstance to the next, the words of one of her students echo on the page: “ story might merely be a series of events we believe ourselves to be involved in, but on which we have absolutely no influence at all.” (Jan.)
Library Journal
★ 10/15/2014
On a flight from London to Athens, two strangers strike up a conversation. The Greek businessman is as intimate and fulsome as the woman (our narrator) is restrained and observant. A teacher of writing, the woman elicits confidences from others with the perfectly timed question, the knowing nod. Also a novelist, she can easily spot the inconsistencies in her seatmate's self-serving story of broken marriages and failed businesses. After all, don't we all retool our memories to show ourselves in the best light? The woman is in Athens to lead a seminar, and over the next few days, she listens to narratives from Ryan, her fellow professor; her Greek friends Paniotis and Angeliki; and her students. From her responses to their stories, readers begin to glimpse vital truths about her character, which is actually at the heart of this original novel. VERDICT 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. Recipient of the Whitbread First Novel Award (Saving Agnes) and the Somerset Maugham Award (The Country Life), Cusk should be more familiar to American readers, and this novel is a solid start. [See Prepub Alert, 7/21/14.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL
Kirkus Reviews
2014-10-02
Following an off-key memoir (Aftermath, 2012), Cusk returns to fiction and top form in a novel about the stories we tell ourselves and others.The nameless narrator is on a plane from London to Athens to teach a summer writing course when an older Greek man begins to confide in her about his unhappy childhood. After learning the narrator is divorced, he tells her about his own marital misadventures. "So much is lost…in the shipwreck," he says mournfully. It's the first of many keening conversation she has with her students, Greek friends and fellow writers. They reveal marriages splintered when shared assumptions diverge; parents wearied by their children's demands but ambivalent when they cease; the struggle to give up comforting illusions and face reality—but then again, don't we all construct our own realities? (That question, unsurprisingly, especially preoccupies her younger students.) As they pour forth the particulars of their lives, the narrator sparingly doles out some of hers while coping with texts and phone calls from her needy sons. Pained by the disconnect "between the things I wanted and the things I could apparently have," she says, "I had decided to want nothing at all….I was trying to find a different way of living in the world." The existential musing can get somewhat abstract, but it's grounded by Cusk's knack for telling details: the slightly reddened eyes of the narrator's friend who asks for a nonalcoholic beer or the vivid makeup of a woman whose unfaithful husband has just redecorated his office entirely in white. The individual stories collectively suggest that self-knowledge is a poor substitute for happiness, but perhaps readers can find some hope from the narrator's admission that she can't shake "this desire to be free…despite having proved that everything about it was illusory." Dark, for sure, but rich in human variety and unsentimental empathy: a welcome change from the cloistered, self-absorbed feel of Arlington Park (2007) and The Bradshaw Variations (2010).

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250081544
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
02/09/2016
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
21,195
Product dimensions:
5.44(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.66(d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Cusk is the author of three memoirs-A Life's Work, The Last Supper, and Aftermath-and several 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 Granta's 2003 Best of Young British Novelists. She lives in London.

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Outline: A Novel 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Disappointed . Somehow I failed at picking up the story line as it did not seem to hold my interest. Characters not defined well enough and no direction could be determined .
Anonymous 5 months ago
This is more a collection of vignettes than a novel. Many nicely turned phrases but no plot or character development.
Anonymous 30 days ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago