Readers looking for the conventional involutions of plotted storytelling may find themselves flummoxed by Rachel Cusk’s fascinating new novel Outline (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2015), which is structured as a series of ten conversations between the novel’s narrator (a British writer teaching in Greece in the aftermath of her divorce) and a rotating assortment of characters variously keen to discuss the dissolutions of their relationships and families and professional lives. In truth, nothing much happens: Characters meet and talk about their histories with intelligence and candor and human amounts of denial, all in the sunshine and heat of a Grecian summer. But the conversations are so richly philosophical—especially as they explore how we construct our identities in the crucible of our relationships and in the stories we tell about our own failures—that the need for dramatic developments all but disappears; it’s enough merely to eavesdrop on the characters as they probe and chatter.
Rachel Cusk, Outline: A Novel. Published by Farrar, Straus and Grioux (2015). 256 pages.