I assume I am like many book lovers in one way. The end of the year finds me casting a wistful glance back at the many books I intended to read. Lack of time and discipline, compounded by the overwhelming distractions of daily life, and the constant need to read "forward" -- got in the way of my intentions.
Last month's publication of Transit by Rachel Cusk served as a reminder of one of my novels-never-read in 2015, Outline. Outline and Transit, both from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux are installments in an intended trilogy by the acclaimed Cusk. The first book in the series, Outline, was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 by the New York Times during a year graced by the publication of so many remarkable novels.
Both Outline and Transit are highly unconventional novels. The protagonist, a writing teacher and novelist, serves as our narrator and tour guide through a series of conversations with her students, traveling companions, fellow writers and friends, hairdresser, contractor, the list goes on. A gifted listener and observer who rarely interjects commentary or questions into these conversations, she is a sounding board and mirror for her companions' stories of loss, love, self-awareness, grief and growth. Often, the stories begin innocently as -- in one example -- a breathless explanation for why a friend has arrived late to a dinner. From such innocent beginnings, the thread of each nested story unravels and the conversations serve bit by bit to reveal a larger truth in the overarching outer story of our protagonist. The stories rarely end up where you might imagine they are headed and we are afforded tiny glimpses into the life of our narrator through these largely one-sided conversations.
Rachel Cusk's writing is restrained, elegant, smart and accessible. In a time of careless and chaotic misuse of words, her writing has yielded what one reviewer termed "lethally intelligent" novels. I highly recommend purchasing both books together as you will need to pick up the second immediately after finishing the first. You will recognize the novels by their inviting dust jacket design which unifies them gracefully as a series: a simple page of lined paper lifted at the corner to expose the vivid blue of the Aegean Sea (Outline is set in Athens) and a gilded song bird in flight on the cover of Transit.
Enjoy and happy reading!
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop