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The Country Life Paperback – 5 Jun 1998


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New edition edition (5 Jun 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330349236
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330349239
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 757,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By tamsin on 11 April 2003
Format: Paperback
Stella Benson leaves London in mysterious circumstances to take up a post in the Sussex countryside as au pair to a disabled teenager.
She arrives in the middle of a heatwave and indeed, over the next week makes extraordinarily heavy weather of everything she undertakes, from entering the village shop to getting dressed. Her every inept action leads to disaster; she cannot, it seems, wash up without causing a flood, walk across a carpet without leaving a trail, or pick up a bottle without it leaping from her hand.
Stock comic characters abound, from shrill upper-class women to taciturn inbred farm labourers and strange “creatures” with healing powers. Huge themes lurk in the woodshed, including incest, madness and infidelity. These are picked up, dallied with, then casually put down again.
Cusk’s prose style is something of a jungle, too – dense and overwritten.
Despite all this, the novel is funny, acute and compelling, drawing us into Stella’s buccolic misadventures and, the real subject of the book, her search for motivation and identity, but leaving us, ultimately, none the wiser.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 April 1999
Format: Paperback
I didn't think that I would enjoy this book at all. The storyline didn't strike me as having much to offer, but I had enjoyed both of Rachel Cusk's previous novels so gave it a go. It took me a couple of chapters to get into it but from that point on I was addicted. The detail is breathtaking and Cusk's descriptions of a heatwave in the countryside almost had me dripping sweat and scratching the nettle stings. It is also hysterically funny, not in a jokey way, but in a rather sad way, as every attempt by Stella to get to grips with life in the countryside is racked with disaster and misfortune and quite often slapstick physical misadventure. She is a stunningly orginal fall girl and quite frankly I would have enjoyed reading about her clumsy expedition through life for another 400 pages. Read this book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 Oct 1999
Format: Paperback
Rachel Cusk has a talent for the awkward. Her heroine, although somewhat unreliable as a narrator, is completely frank about the humiliations that make up the fabric of her life. Both the setting and characters are brilliantly drawn, and very funny, to boot. My one minor criticism of this book is that the ending seems a bit tentative. Saving something for the sequel?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Philip Spires on 6 Jan 2012
Format: Paperback
Several characters in search of a plot - The Country Life by Rachel Cusk

The Country Life by Rachel Cusk presents several promises, but eventually seems to break most of them. When Stella Benson, a twenty-nine-year-old, leaves home suddenly to take up a private care assistant's job in darkest south England, it is clear that she is running away. From what we do learn later, but by then we perhaps care rather less about the circumstances.

From the start there was a problem with the book's point of view. Stella presents a first person narrative couched in a conventional past tense. Events - albeit from the past - unfold along a linear time frame, but despite her removed perspective, she apparently never reflects beyond the present she reports. Given Stella's character, this may be no more than an expression of her scattered immediacy, but that only becomes clear as we get to know her via her actions. This apparent contradiction of perspectives has to be ignored if the book is to work, but once overcome The Country Life is worth the effort.

Stella - to say the least - is not a very competent person. But then no-one else in this little southern village seems to have much about them. She becomes a live-in personal carer for Martin Madden, a disabled seventeen-year-old who lives with his rather dotty parents on their apparently luxurious farm. Stella has neither experience, nor presumably references, nor the pre-requisite driving licence. Her employers don't check anything, despite their reported bad experiences in the past. Thus Stella becomes part of a rather mad family called Madden.

Stella steadily learns more about the Maddens. They have their past, both collectively and individually. Pamela, a wiry, sun-tanned matriarch, is married to Piers.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amy Snowe on 12 May 2006
Format: Paperback
"The Country Life" was the first book I ever read by Rachel Cusk. Though somewhat disappointed by her recent output (e.g. "In the Fold", "the Lucky Ones"), this novel, her second and also her best, retains its charm.

Basically it's about a young woman called Stella who decides to drop everything and escape from her past in order to take up a job as au pair to a disabled boy, Martin. The novel is basically about her time there and how she deals with everything her new situation throws at her.

I found Stella's story immensely enjoyable. Cusk's style of writing is extremely elegant and sharp, I'm not surprised to hear that she was educated at Oxford University. Not only does Cusk make the reader just fall in love with Stella, but she also makes said reader fall about laughing. She is an extremely witty writer and we can all recognise a bit of ourselves in Stella, as well as finding the other characters somewhat familiar. Let's face it, who doesn't know a Caroline?

All the supporting characters, from Mr Trimmer, to Karen Miller, even dear Thomas, the gardner, are absolutely superb and just as interesting as Stella. However, the best portraits in the book are Pamela and Martin. You really do feel as if they actually exist, they are so true to life, and so real. Toby and Mr Madden also deserve a special mention.

Cusk is also very daring in the way she handles daring themes such as incest etc. She is obviously an extremely intelligent woman and I would say that this is her best work to date, her masterpiece. One to read in the summer.
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