A couple of years ago, I read Rachel Cusk’s ‘Outline,’ a book that is so delicately evocative of a fractured self it was almost impossible to review (though I tried, and you can see the result at Shiny New Books). Here, at Shoshi’s Book Blog, all I could do to give a snapshot of the book was quote from Rilke’s Fourth Duino Elegy:
…It’s as if – in a quick sketch – all the effort
has gone to prepare a background that allows us
to see precisely and yet still we cannot grasp
the real contour of our feelings and we know
only the pressures that shape us from the outside…
I was thrilled to see a follow up novel in book shops last year. But then I got anxious. ‘Outline’ did such a perfect job of presenting a heroine sublimating her own ego and identity. She is barely a character in her own novel, merely inhabiting the spaces left around the stories others tell her about themselves. I wasn’t sure if I needed another novel giving more of the same; on the other hand, I couldn’t quite imagine being satisfied with anything less.
‘Transit’, as the name suggests, does indeed move on from ‘Outline.’ Unlike the Athens-set first novel (surrounded by abandoned building projects), the action in ‘Transit’ takes place in London, as our narrator attempts to fix up her new property into something resembling a family home. It’s a difficult process, grubby and painful, echoing our narrator’s own slow process away from the numb self-effacement of ‘Outline.’
Structurally, the novel is made up of isolated episodes in which Faye meets different people and hears their stories. In the previous book, such narratives were about the nature of storytelling itself. With ‘Transit,’ there is a new pervasive theme, from the hairdresser to the neighbours, conversations seem to circle around ideas of childhood and children. The question of what it means to be grown up echoes the difficulties faced by our narrator as she struggles to rebuild an identity for herself following her divorce and new existence as a single parent.
Like the newly bought flat around which much of its action centres, ‘Transit’ is a novel continually on the brink of collapse. From the ambition of the structure (in which very little actually happens) and the characterisation (in a novel which actively wrestles with the idea of identity) it is every bit a powerful as ‘Outline.’ There is a third book planned to round off this collection of books and I can’t wait to see how Cusk continues her existential exploration of modern life. Right now, I’m most excited to see what it will be called, hoping for a hat trick of fantastic titles that encapsulate their stories far better than any written review…