Don’t Judge a Book by Its Blurbers

WITH RAVES FROM OUTLETS ranging from The New York Times and The Guardian to The New Yorker and NPR, I expected to be wowed by Rachel Cusk’s trilogy-opening novel Outline. I knew going in that this is an unconventional book, and I’m not huge into experimental(ish) fiction, but the wide-ranging praise convinced me to give it a try.

Cusk’s work follows a novelist traveling from London to Athens to lead a weeklong writing workshop. Beginning with the protagonist’s interaction with a seatmate on the flight to Greece, we get ten chapters’ worth of conversations between her and others she encounters. A colleague; her students; the seatmate again; and so on. The writing is compelling, and Cusk’s observations frequently piercing and incisive, but there is barely a plot and no conflict to speak of. I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen to make me interested in the characters. It never did.

With so much applause directed its way, I readily acknowledge that Outline may be a book that is simply over my head. More discerning readers than I called it among the best novels of the year it was published. Regardless, I found it more peculiar and frustrating than trenchant, and I am content to pass on Transit and Kudos, the second and third books in the trilogy, while I read other books more to my liking. | DL