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A man and a woman are seated next to each other on a plane. They get to talking - about their destination, their careers, their families. Grievances are aired, family tragedies discussed, marriages and divorces analyzed. An intimacy is established as two strangers contrast their own fictions about their lives.
Outline is a novel in ten conversations. Spare and stark, it follows a novelist teaching a course in creative writing during one oppressively hot summer in Athens. She leads her students in storytelling exercises. She meets other visiting writers for dinner and discourse. 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.
Outline takes a hard look at the things that are hardest to speak about. It brilliantly captures conversations, investigates people's motivations for storytelling, and questions their ability to ever do so honestly or unselfishly. In doing so it bares the deepest impulses behind the craft of fiction writing. This is Rachel Cusk's finest work yet and one of the most startling, brilliant, original novels of recent years.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Steve M on 02-14-17
Intelligent and Odd
Because I am not a big fan of heavily plotted books, I looked forward to reading this essentially (and intentionally) plotless novel. My reaction to it went from admiration and astonishment to impatience, annoyance, and boredom. It reminded me a little of the film My Dinner With Andre in that everything is second and third hand. Characters we don't really care about tell stories about characters we never meet to a narrator who is more guide than developed person. At one point I drifted off for five minutes. I started to go back to replay and thought, "Why bother? The chapter will end and I'll never meet this character again."
The writing is spectacularly polished and elegant and precise, without being remotely precious. The insights into love and relationships and all manner of behavior are stunning and gorgeously phrased. But ultimately, I wearied of the stories within stories and the passing parade of talkative characters.
Cusk is obviously masterful and brilliant. She knows what she's doing, I just ended up not being interested in it. This might be better on the page, but I don't feel like investing the time.The authority of her prose makes me want to read another, more traditional, of her novels.
Kate Reading is a pro (her name alone!) and she handles the difficult material well. The book is set in Greece and she manages a range of accents without going overboard.
I wish I could give this 2.5 as an overall experience. I did, after all, finish it.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
By Jennifer L. Carow on 01-30-18
Deserves multiple listens or reads
This beautiful book is so substantive it demands more than one read or listen as well as annotations, copious underlining and personal connections written into one’s notes. Not thought provoking- Mind blowing. For those who complain plot is lacking, this novel should be approached as a collection of short stories rather than one cohesive narrative. As such, it is a work of genius.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful