Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work
is the tale of her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter Albertine, which follows the ups and downs of the life of this first-time mother up to the time when her infant takes her first steps. Those moments, whether breastfeeding, coping with colic, enjoying her first smile or feeling free and yet trapped when away from her daughter, are told in raw and honest detail. Moments become hours, days, months and suddenly years--one colicky night can seem like any others for months, then suddenly distressed night-time crying is a thing of the past. Cusk has subtitled her book "On Becoming a Mother", and while other mothers may find similarities of experience within its pages--perhaps relief at not being the first or last mother who cannot leave her baby to cry, whatever the healthcare manuals might say--this is an account of her own unique experience with her daughter.
Saturating the text is her almost unbelievable ignorance and naïvete about looking after babies. However, she herself admits on the very first page that "My own strategy was to deny it [childbirth] and so I arrived at the fact of motherhood shocked and unprepared, ignorant of what the consequences of this arrival would be". Cusk reads Dr Spock, Penelope Leach and the library of baby-care "experts" after the birth, and amusingly dismisses or agrees with their advice. She also intersperses her trials with excerpts from Jane Eyre's imprisonment in the Red Room to Lily Bart's childlessness in The House of Mirth and Coleridge's "cradled infant" in "Frost at Midnight".
Cusk achieves engaging, amusing and touching reading out of what could be the interminable boredom of a crying, sticky, demanding baby. Despite her constant cries of fear of imprisonment by this "tetchy monarch", her love cannot help but seep through her moans and complaints, together with her almost frightened realisation that her daughter, even at a week old, is a separate person. Cusk acknowledges her "stepdaughter, friend and ultimate ally", with the hope that she will one day read and like the book. Perhaps she should wait until she is pregnant with Cusk's first grandchild to be aware that her new experience is a very old story. --Olivia Dickinson
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘There is a ferociously vigilant intelligence at work in every line of this book, which launches it past the tight orbit of self-pity into something that is actually useful – and occasionally grimly funny, like a Helen Simpson story. Brainy women will continue to have babies, and this is for those for whom motherhood is not all sweetness and light.’ Nicholas Lezard, Guardian
‘As compulsive as a thriller. No mother could fail to be interested and moved.’ Kate Kellaway, Observer
‘An incitement to riot. I laughed out loud, often, in painful recognition.’ Esther Freud
‘Full of enormous insight and sly wit. Cusk has crafted a work of beauty and wisdom. And belly laughs.’ Suzanne Moore, New Statesman
‘A deeply fascinating read, a nakedly honest, witty and eloquent exploration of the world of mother and child, where each of us began.’ Helen Dunmore
‘A breath of fresh air. It took me back to raw emotions since edited from my official history. If I were still in the midst of it I expect I would seize on the book in the same frame of mind as Noah did his ark.’ Maureen Freely, Independent
‘She observes her own sensations and transfers them, still bleeding, to the page where some alchemy of her prose renders this most fascinating and boring of all subjects graceful, eloquent, modest and true.’ Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph
‘“A Life’s Work” is perhaps the most beautifully written and moving book on the subject to be published in recent years.’ Stephanie Merrit, Observer
‘I read it in one sitting, completely mesmerized. Every line rang true. A stunning achievement.’ Madeleine Wickham
'Mothers are usually compelled to say, "I love my children … but". It is the "but" that Cusk bravely stresses. A Life's Work is about how tough and tender motherhood is.' Deborah Levy, Independent
‘Honest, funny and moving.’ Sunday Times