Set over the course of one rainy day in a London suburb, Arlington Park is a viciously funny portrait of a group of young mothers, each bound to their families, each straining for some kind of independence. As the hours pass, Rachel Cusk's graceful, incisive prose passes through the experience of each mother, following them all from the early-morning scrambling, through car trips and visits to the mall, and finally to a dinner party in the evening, when the husbands return and all the conflicts come to the surface. Penetrating and empathetic, Arlington Park is "a domestic adventure about the perils of modern privilege that is as smartly satirical as it is warmly wise" (Elle).
|Edition description:||First Edition|
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About the Author
Rachel Cusk is the Whitbread Award–winning author of Saving Agnes, The Temporary, The Country Life, The Lucky Ones, and In the Fold, and of the memoir A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother. She lives in Bristol, England.
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By Rachel Cusk
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2006 Rachel Cusk
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAll night the rain fell on Arlington Park.
The clouds came from the west: clouds like dark cathedrals, clouds like machines, clouds like black blossoms flowering in the arid starlit sky. They came over the English countryside, sunk in its muddled sleep. They came over the low, populous hills where scatterings of lights throbbed in the darkness. At midnight they reached the city, valiantly glittering in its shallow provincial basin. Unseen, they grew like a second city overhead, thickening, expanding, throwing up their savage monuments, their towers, their monstrous, unpeopled palaces of cloud.
In Arlington Park, people were sleeping. Here and there the houses showed an orange square of light. Cars crept along the deserted roads. A cat leapt from a wall, pouring itself down into the shadows. Silently the clouds filled the sky. The wind picked up. It faintly stirred the branches of the trees, and in the dark, empty park the swings moved back and forth a little. A handful of dried leaves shuffled on the pavement. Down in the city there were still people on the streets, but in Arlington Park they were in their beds, already surrendered to tomorrow. There was no one to see the rain coming, except a couple hurrying down the silent streets on their way back from an evening out.
"I don't like the look of that," said the man, peering up. "That's rain."
The woman gave an exasperated little laugh.
"You're the expert on everything tonight, aren't you?" she said.
They let themselves into their house. The orange light showed for an instant in their doorway and was extinguished again.
On Arlington Rise, where the streetlamps made a tunnel of hard light and the road began its descent down into the city, the wind lifted stray pieces of litter and whirled them around. Further down, the black sky sagged over the darkened shop-fronts. An irascible gust made the signs rattle against the windows. From here the city could be seen, spread out below in the half-splendour of night. A brown haze stood above it. In its heaped centre, cranes and office blocks and the tiny floodlit spires of the cathedral stood out in the dark against the haze. Red and yellow lights moved in little repeating patterns as though they were the lights of an intricate mechanism. All around it, where the suburbs extended to the north and the east, brilliant fields of light undulated over the blackened landscape.
In the centre of the city the pubs and restaurants were closed, but people were queuing outside the nightclubs. When the rain started to fall, a few of the girls shrieked and held their handbags over their heads. The boys laughed uneasily. They hunched their shoulders and put their hands in their pockets. The drops fell from the fathomless darkness and came glittering into the orange light. They fell on the awning of the Luna nightclub and twisted in the beams of the streetlamps. They fell into the melancholy, stained fountain in the square, where men in T-shirts sat with cans of lager and hooded boys made graceful circles in the dark on their skateboards. There were people milling in doorways, shrieking girls in stilettos, boys with sculpted hair, middle-aged men furtively carrying things in plastic bags. A woman in a tight raincoat tick-tacked hurriedly along the pavement, talking into her mobile phone. One of the men by the fountain took off his T-shirt and rubbed his startled chest in the rain while the others cheered. The traffic moved slowly through the spray. A group of men in a passing car blared their horn at the queuing girls and shouted out the windows as they went by.
The rain fell on the tortuous medieval streets and the grimy Victorian streets and on the big bombed streets where shopping centres had been built. It fell on the hospital and the old theatre and the new multiplex cinema. It fell on multi-storey car parks and office blocks. It fell on fast-food restaurants and pubs with Union Jacks in the windows. It fell on newly built blocks of flats whose windows were still in their plastic wrappers and whose foundations stood in mud, and it fell on their hoardings. Along the river, commercial buildings-insurance buildings and banks-stood one after another, geometric-shaped, and the rain fell in their empty, geometric-shaped plazas. On the black river, under the bridge, swans sheltered from the dark drops amidst the floating rubbish. All along the rain-blackened High Street people were waiting at bus stops: people from desolate parts of the city, from Weston or Hartford, where the rain fell on boarded-up shops and houses and the concrete walkways of insomniac estates. They crowded into the bus shelters, a man with a giant sheaf of dreadlocks, a man with an enormous suitcase, an old lady neatly parcelled into a tweed coat, a couple in tracksuits who kissed and kissed beneath the plastic roof where the rain beat down, so that when the bus came in a great dark arc of water the old lady had to tap the boy on the shoulder and tell them to get on.
The bus went through the rain up Firley Way, which passed from the centre all the way through the suburbs to the retail park, where rain fell on featureless warehouses and superstores and tumbled down in sheets over their empty car parks. It fell on the roofs of darkened garage forecourts. It fell on car showrooms and builders' merchants. It battered the plastic verandas where supermarket trolleys clung together in long, chattering rows. It fell on the business park, and on the shrubs adorning its desolate roundabout. It fell on the black, submissive fields from which the new places were unrepentantly carved. Over Merrywood shopping mall the rain fell hard on the giant neo-classical roof, so that water streamed down its indifferent façade.
On Arlington Rise the rain was running downhill in the gutters. Below, a kind of vapour hung over the city, muffling the red and yellow lights. The sounds of car horns and a siren rose up the hill from the glittering, steaming heap of the city.
A little further up, around a bend in the road, the vista disappeared. The darkness deepened. The buildings grew more graceful and the pavements more orderly. As the road ascended to Arlington Park the big, brash shops down below were succeeded by florists and antique shops: the off-licences became wine merchants, the fast-food chains became bistros. To either side tree-lined roads began to appear. In the rain these roads had the resilient atmosphere of ancient places. Their large houses stood impassively in the dark, set back amidst their dripping trees. Between them, a last, panoramic glimpse of the city could be seen below: of its eternal red and yellow lights, its pulsing mechanism, its streets always crawling with indiscriminate life. It was a startling view, though not a reassuring one. It was too mercilessly dramatic: with its unrelenting activity it lacked the sense of intermission, the proper stops and pauses of time. The story of life required its stops and its pauses, its days and nights. It didn't make sense otherwise. But to look at that view you'd think that a human life was meaningless. You'd think that a day meant nothing at all.
The rain fell on Arlington Park, fell on its empty avenues and its well-pruned hedges, on its schools and its churches, on its trees and its gardens. It fell on its Victorian terraces with their darkened windows, on its rows of bay-fronted houses, on its Georgian properties behind their gates, on its maze of tidy streets where the little two-storey houses were painted pretty colours. It fell joyously over the dark, deserted sward of the park, over its neat paths and bushes. It beat down, washing the pavements, sluicing along the drains, drumming on the bonnets of the parked cars. All night it fell, until with a new intensity, just before dawn, it emptied a roaring cascade of water over the houses so that the rain was flung against the darkened windows.
In their sleep they heard it, people lying in their beds: the thunderous noise of the water. It penetrated their dreams, a sound like the sound of uproarious applause. It was as if a great audience were applauding. Louder and louder it grew, this strange, unsettling sound. It filled the night: it rattled the windows and made people turn beneath their covers and children cry in their sleep. It made them feel somehow observed, as if a dark audience had assembled outside and were looking in through the windows, clapping their hands.
Excerpted from Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk Copyright © 2006 by Rachel Cusk. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Arlington Park are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Arlington Park.
1. What is the effect of the stormy weather that permeates the novel? How does the author use tangible details to convey intangible aspects of her characters' lives?
2. What is the source of Juliet's rage? To what extent are her feelings toward her husband, her children and her job common among women in her situation? Has the sense of possibility truly been extinguished in her, as she fears?
3. Amanda's car gives her a sense of control and escape, while Eddie continually makes her feel trapped. Where do the impressions and the reality of her life intersect? How does her current level of freedom compare to that of her previous life in business? Is her perfectionism an adequate tonic?
4. How is Christine's perception of the journey to the mall different from that of her friends? What does she realize about herself during this trip through the lesser suburbs, where saleswomen hawk thinness and the dressing rooms provide a common denominator?
5. Is Liz Connelly out of touch, or is she the most aware woman in her neighborhood? What does her religious awakening mean to her? Does it cause her to be a better or worse mother to Owen?
6. What were Maisie's expectations upon leaving London? What does her reaction to the parking-lot incident with Jasper say about her, and about her neighbors?
7. Why was it important for Solly to know that Paola had been married and was a mother? Why was Paolo able to take bigger risks than the women of Arlington Park seem to have taken? Would you have preferred to have Betty, Katzmi, or Paolo in your home?
8. What was your reaction to the scene when the rain stopped and you were able to eavesdrop as the children and their mothers enjoyed the park? Was there a theme to their chatter?
9. How do your book club's discussions compare with those of Juliet's Literary Club? Why does she identify with the Brontë sisters to such a high degree?
10. What does the story of Juliet's hair (from the memories of her mother to the nightmares she has as an adult) indicate about her changing attitudes toward her life?
11. Discuss the genre of twenty-first-century motherhood in general, as it appears on television dramas as well as in books. What dilemmas are presented to contemporary mothers? When Christine and her mother talk on the phone, what distinctions become apparent about the roles of wife and mother between two generations? Which generation of women has less anxiety?
12. What is the effect of reading a novel in stories, with Juliet's haircutting narrative separated by other scenes? What innovations does the author apply to point of view and time lines? How does she balance humor and reverence?
13. How does each couple in Arlington Park manage the question of economics? How does money factor into their sense of status, and how does it affect power within the relationships? Which couples seem to be the best matches? Do the best-suited couples realize how compatible they are?
14. Which of the characters resonates with your experience? Is this circle of neighbors typical of those found in suburban America?
15. Describing Dom and Maisie's house on Roderick Road, the author writes, "The kitchen was like a person with whom she had tried to get on and failed." How do the characters' homes, or even specific rooms, mirror their identities? How do Cusk's descriptions of the various settings enhance her development of the characters?
16. What gender distinctions become apparent during the dinner party in the closing chapter? Knowing as much as you do about the guests' private thoughts, do you believe they interact in an authentic way? Are their greatest fears eased or stoked by an evening together?
17. What common threads run through Rachel Cusk's fiction and her memoir? What would the characters in her previous novels have thought of the residents of Arlington Park?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I started this book a couple times before it actually took. I never know whether it is me or the book that causes it to happen though. However, I am glad I read it when I did. This book looks into the suffocating, stagnant lives of several women in this upscale suburb of London. Being pregnant, looking at how I want to approach the transition to motherhood, and redefining my sense of self to include mother are all topics that have been on the forefront of my mind. This book provides a good reminder to make your own way and not resign yourself to letting the flow and expectations of other take you. I enjoyed this book although some would call it depressing. I thought it had some jewels of prose including the entire opening description of the book [The opening is actually worth reading just in the book store even if you don't buy or read the whole book]:-"He and Benedict talked, and Louisa and Juliet fed on the scraps of the men's conversation that fell to them."-"they were in their beds, already surrendered to tomorrow."I would recommend it only to certain individuals whose taste I knew well. I am not sure I would read it again, but was glad I read it once.
Rachel Cusk has a wonderful way with metaphor and phrasing. Her writing is a joy to read. Arlington Park does a lovely job of peering below the surface of a handful of suburban women in the outskirts of London in a sympathetic but humorous way. I highly recommend.
This book is all about thirty-something women with kids, their various dissatisfactions, obsessions and innermost thoughts. Their relationships with their husbands, their children, and their female friends, and the awful way they treat eachother, intentionally or not.Nothing spectacular happens, it's all fairly mundane, but the author's skill is in teasing out the emotions underlying everyday life, and the fantastic dialogue she writes. Any one of the characters could be someone you know, and it's both witty and profound at the same time.My only criticism is that some of the comparisons she draws are a bit deep and overly obscure at times. Some sections I had to read over and over and still didn't grasp the point she was trying to make. Still, it made for highly intelligent reading, and with three words I had never even heard of within the first fifty pages, it improved my vocabulary too.
Looking at the ratings spread -- the entire gamut from 0.5 to 5.0 -- I would be tempted to call this a love-it-or-hate-it read, but ultimately I wonder if certain expectations are in play. Namely, that "women's fiction" should be filled with likable people and that domestic issues are inherently less serious than other issues. These women are handling existential questions, and I can't help but feel that if the author and characters were men the internal experiences detailed here would not be considered trivial. Makes me want to re-read Kate Chopin's -The Awakening-; I have a suspicion they would go together very well. Maybe, too, Wharton's -House of Mirth-.
Only made it about 80 pages into this one. Had heard great things about the writer and had high hopes (it started out well enough), but just felt dreary, repetitive, pointless, and bourgeois. Still, clearly a gifted writer though may need better subject matter and/or more interesting characters.
Desperate Housewives invade uppity British Suburb. (ok, slightly tongue in cheek here) I think that Rachel is really talented and I definitely would not rule out reading other efforts by her.That being said...I didn't enjoy the book as much as I thought I would...during this particular time in our country (or world) it just all seems so trivial to get bogged down in. And depressing. I thought there was incredible character development...I certainly had insight into their thoughts...I just ceased wanting to KNOW their thoughts.Thanks again to LibraryThing for including me in the early reviewers program. Whether I enjoy the book or not, I am grateful for the opportunity.
Set in a moderatly wealthy London Suburs, the novel follows the day of a group of moms. They all feel somehow imprisoned in their life, they all are looking for a better way to be. They shop, the chat they drink coffee, but they don't seem able to help each other in this struggle for a more meaningful life.The husbands may be percieved as the enemies at times, but none of the women chose to rebel against that: the tension is high, but no relief solution is found. Motherhood itself is a critic condition: children are ourselves, children are our future, but children stop us and limit us in endless ways.It's not difficult to find a piece of yourself, if you are a woman, in the struggling ladies of Arlington Park. It's with relief, though, that in the end you are able to go back to your, as struggling but less meaningless, life.
Arlington Park features an assortment of women in a London suburb who are connected only by their chosen roles and their ambivalence about same. They all have kids and just about all seem to resent the lives they have chosen (some more passively than others) and the traps they have walked into. The book reminds me a bit of Nancy Friday's The Womens Room (except I read that about 25 years ago and could be remembering it wrong) where women suddenly wake up to the fact that they are limited by tradtional roles and they want out. Except the women in Arlington Park have had the benefit of the last 40 years of change and still decided to go "retro" as if being a suburban Mom now would be any more satisfying than it was in the 1950's. The book is frustrating for this reason; these women should know better. They have more or less drifted into a dull suburb when London beckons. Cusk packs a lot into a short book and her character development is surprisingly good given that each character gets about a chapter. Women reading this may recognize some of these characters in their own friends - from the self-centered, extroverted Christine who speaks her mind nomatter what, to the depressed Maisie who has figured out that modern life is going to destroy the planet and is not shy about expressing her anger to the piggy people in the big cars. My favorite chapter was about a couple with 3 kids and a fourth on the way who decide to bring in some extra cash renting a spare room to language students from a nearby school. Each tenant brings something different to the table and the mother can't help but compare her life to theirs, not always with satisfaction. It is a good vehicle for understanding that we don't really see ourselves clearly when we run with the herd because we don't distinguish ourselves from the group. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to women of any age. P.S. By the way, I never read the other reviews until I write my own, and having just read them all I would have to agree the book was depressing overall. And there was way too much rain.
Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk is certainly a beautifully written book. The sentences are beautifully crafted and descriptions so well done I definitely could picture the scenes, the people, and the area. However, the story itself is quite depressing. The reader views one day in the lives of several women living in Arlington Park, what appears to be an upscale suburb of London. These housewives are so dissatisfied with their lives that one wonders why they continue in this lifestyle. There is no instance of joy or happiness. Husbands are seen as too demanding and squashing the lives out of their wives. Children are seen simply as a nuisance, just one more thing that is holding these women back. No one seems to have a plan to make things better. As I said, it is beautifully written and easy to read. It just left me in a rather black mood.
OK, this Author can write, and write beautifully, but why on earth should she chooses to write about these selfish, angry, and desperately unhappy housewives its beyond me. I had no sympathy or empathy for any of the characters in this novel, except perhaps for poor pregnant Solly - who only appears once and has no interaction with the other characters - maybe that's why I actually liked her - she did not stoop to their mean and vicious level. The way these women treat their husbands - geez! Juliet calls hers a murderer and Christine hisses at her husband " You're useless, you are". Nice - I'd sure like to come home to that everyday. I was hoping that the characters moods would pick up towards the end of their day - they all started out having a tough morning with children, work etc. I was hoping it would all come together for them and that they could resolve some of their maternal angst, but sadly this did not happen. What I like about being an early reviewer for LibraryThing is that I get a chance to read books that I would perhaps not normally pick up, so I appreciate the chance to have read it even though I really didn't like it much.
The story of one day in the life of some suburban housewives in England, their thoughts on life in general and the choices they made that brought them to the place where they are maried and living in a suburb, taking care of kids and a house and shopping at the mall and having dinner parties. Excellent writing but more along the lines of the characters speaking in a stream of consciousness mode with no real plot or story development.
I can't decide if I love this book or hate it.But I couldn't put it down.While I found the premise of the book to be of interest, and found a lot of the writing to be insightful and quite beautiful, I could not bring myself to feel the pain these women were in such angst about.
I received a copy of Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk through LibraryThing¿s Early Reviewer program, and am grateful I was given the chance to read and review this book.One of the blurbs on the back cover states, ¿Cusk¿s frank acknowledgement of maternal ambivalence is rare and wonderful.¿ The quote is from a review in Entertainment Weekly. As the mother of two boys in elementary school, I can certainly relate to maternal ambivalence, and I found myself understanding and relating to some of the characters¿ feelings, and a few of the situations depicted in the novel. But while parts of the book were enjoyable, the overall picture was disappointing. Each chapter focuses on a different mother living in the London suburb of Arlington Park. There is some interaction between some of these ¿main characters,¿ but not enough to help the novel cohere as it should.A couple of the main characters are central to two chapters, most to only one. The first mother introduced, Juliet Randall, ends her first chapter on page 42, and doesn¿t appear again until page 158. The second mother, Amanda Clapp, is not seen again after her chapter ends. In the middle of the book, we meet Solly Kerr-Leigh, who is expecting her fourth child. We learn that she and her husband let out their spare room to foreign students; they¿re on their third boarder, an Italian woman named Paola. Solly¿s chapter was one of my favorites, yet when I got to the end of the book, I realized that she¿d had no interaction with the other main characters, that her story was the most self-contained. I enjoyed it, but couldn¿t understand why it was in the novel. All the other chapters present the women¿s experiences over one rainy day in and around Arlington Park, while Solly¿s includes scenes from several different days, and ends after the birth of her baby. It¿s like a good short story stuck into the middle of a novel where it doesn¿t belong.The mother I liked the least is the one with the most ¿page time,¿ in that she has a small role in one chapter, a larger role in another, and gets two chapters of her own. After finishing the chapter where Christine Lanham and two other moms go to the mall, I became disillusioned with the book and didn¿t pick it up for a while. When they arrive at the mall, Maisie, newly relocated to Arlington Park from London, sees caravans of gypsies living off to the side of the mall. She says, ¿What a place to have to live. Right where people come to pick up their sofas.¿ Christine¿s response to this is, ¿I don¿t think they¿re really doing any harm. ¿ At least they¿re out of the way here. I¿m sure the police would move them if they caused any trouble.¿ Maisie replies, ¿They¿re people.¿ Christine continues to prove herself the most self-absorbed of the main characters as the book goes on. She is given more dialogue than the other moms, and tends to have less tact. In her company, the book becomes tiresome. I would have preferred a more cohesive novel, and would have been glad to hear more about Solly, Juliet, or Maisie. But, as Christine is the main character of the last chapter, it was with relief that I finished the book and closed the pages.
Ugh I hated this novel. All the women seemed to hate their lives and their kids. If you hate your life so much, change it!!!!! Grrr...I was just horrified by this novel.
The Boston Globe calls this book: "Hideously funny...a novel with a sense of rightness at it's core and a narrative intelligence so swift and piercing it can take your breath away." If I may borrow from the esteemed author of that quote and just take out the word FUNNY and add in DEPRESSING, then we may agree. The first quarter of the book had me wishing I had doubled up on my dose of anti-depressants. The rest of the book had me wishing I could just take some and cram them down the authors throat and have her lighten up a bit. The first chapter and the use of rain as a metaphor made me want to run and get my umbrella and beat someone with it. Throughout this book rain kept rearing its ugly head...it's England so one would imagine rain is to be expected and not used as this author did...like a battering ram to get her point across.The characters, well that's another story, they are fairly well written yet I had no sympathy for these crabby, cranky, mean annoying, whiny, air headed, depressed women. I saw no character growth, although would one expect any in a 24 hour time frame? *sigh* I would, or at least I would like to be able to empathize with at least one of them. I'm very glad that this was not a book that I paid for, since I would have to go back to the book store and demand my money back. I have this rule; books need to, at the very least entertain me and take me out of my own life for the duration. This book just made me wish that I was cleaning my toilets and not reading it. PS - I was very worried that I was going to be the only one that couldn't find something good/entertaining/redeeming in this novel, thank you other reviewers for not leaving my bum hanging out there all alone.Dianne