9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2007
I was not enthused by it. I was not put off by the subject matter, the seemingly-bleak lives of 30+ middle-class housewives in a 'nice' part of town, but by the treatment. Cusk was simply trying too hard I thought. So many similes: at one time I felt like getting a pencil and counting how many per page. In the final chapter or so Cusk loosens up, so to speak, with more use of direct conversation. The final dinner party scene made me think of the play Abigail's Party but the latter won hands down.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2010
I was given this book by my brother's girlfriend and having heard good things about Cusk was intrigued as to how it would pan out.
As other reviewers here have written, it was a distinctly average book, with very average boring and predictable characters. I could see how Cusk could maybe have been cocking a snook at posh wife/husband combo in the first chapter and the materialistic Christine in the shopping mall but I just didn't see how they really connected and just when Cusk developed a character (the Japanese houseguest or the Italian student houseguest) enough to draw your interest in, then it was abruptly dragged from under your feet afterwards. I really didn't see the point of this book, it illustrated suburbia all too well and was well written in parts but I really found it extremely boring and something I would not recommend. I am even thinking twice before donating it to a friend!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The start to this novel is brilliantly evocative describing the rain over a night time city: 'In their sleep they heard it, people lying in their beds: the thunderous noise of the water...it made them feel somehow observed, as if a dark audience had assembled outside and were looking in through the windows, clapping their hands.'
And then Cusk takes us through a day in the life of this suburb through the eyes of various middle-class young mums; the snapshots of each show an unremitting dissatisfaction with their husbands and children and their place in a man's world.
I LOVED Cusk's prose but started to get fed up with these moany privileged women!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A fairly furious and dark polemic against marriage, motherhood, men women and children. Cusk conveys the frustration and bitterness of middle class surburbian life well, sometimes extremely well, but there's little to leaven the bleakness of the shallow existences of her characters. Even the character (male) who is a brilliant teacher to no-hoper boys is ridiculous. If i compare this feminist leaning novel with, for example, any of Marge Piercy's oeuvre Braided Lives (sadly I believe out of print), Woman on the Edge of Time (A Women's Press classic), there is a depth, rounded characterisations and sympathy/understanding in French and Piercy which Cusk misses.
Cusk is a good descriptive writer - though this sometimes seems very self-consciously 'literary', for example the 'day in the life' chapter about the park, but when a writer seems to be showing off her fine turn of phrase and pictorial ability, this is the display of fine writing, rather than the inhabiting of it.
She's clearly an intelligent, insightful and perceptive writer, but stands at too much of a remove from the bleak and messy humanity she writes about.
For a very very different habitation of female existential despair Cusk makes me want to return to the wonderful, intelligent and deeply felt The Bell Jar
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2007
Having read the reviews (both on this site, on the book cover and in the press) I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately it did not live up to the hype. Yes, it's well written, and yes it's a comment on how we live now. However, it's such a 'glass half empty' book that it feels like a long slog to the end. If you want to read about a bunch of privileged women complaining bitterly about their lives then perhaps this book is for you. For me, it covers no new territory and has a serious sense of humour failure. What it does achieve, however, is to make you feel very glad that you are not in the well-heeled shoes of the women of Arlington Park.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2006
If you want a plot-driven read, then Cusk isn't for you; nevertheless I did find this book a page-turner. The chapters are linked by the the location, Arlington Park - a well-heeled suburb that is Not London - and by the women who live there, weighed down by husbands and families, appearing normal on the outside, but inwardly fuming. Cusk is very good at describing women momentarily "losing it" with complete strangers, or their children, and it is the way in which she captures her characters' inner dialogues and their very ordinary and all-too-recognisable dramas that makes her work compelling. No quick fixes, no obviously cheery endings. I did expect a little more from the final chapter where characters from the previous chapters are brought together for a dinner party, which is why I'm giving it four stars rather than five, but nevertheless it's a powerful book.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2008
Hmmm. I sped through Arlington Park in two sittings, but my opinion is divided.
First off, I'm not a mother, so I have no idea how accurate the portrayals of motherhood are. For what it's worth, though, I can see my own mother in one or two of the characters, so I'm assuming it is pretty close to the bone.
This is the first book I've read by Rachel Cusk, though she's a name I've been aware of for some time. If I'm perfectly honest, the reason I bought this book in the first place is because I needed a third to make up a 3 for 2 offer, and vaguely recognised her name. And the cover is pretty. Not the most intelligent reason to buy a book but hey ho. Sometimes I really am that shallow.
Rachel Cusk is a very good writer. She has an elegant turn of phrase, she has an eye for minute detail, and her prose is riddled with both anger and the futile nature of suburban domesticity and empathy with her exquisitely detailed characters. However, I couldn't help feeling like the unrelenting bleakness of Arlington Park was just a little too much. By the end of this fairly short book (240 pages) I felt somewhat like I had been walloped over the head with "motherhood is crap, motherhood is crap, motherhood is crap, motherhood is crap. and so are husbands." Perhaps this is my rose-tinted, no-children, view, but surely it can't all be that bad. There was no let up, there was no chink of light through the (carefully selected) curtains.
Rabid feminist as I am, this came across at times as a slightly clumsy feminist manifesto, that - conversely - gives even more grist to the mill of those who say that women only write about domestic matters.
I honestly think that Rachel Cusk is a massively talented writer, I just wish it had been a little more of a balanced story.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2008
Cusk develops the characters well, but if it's a good plot you are looking for, then this book may well be one to avoid. Arlington Park puts forward an interesting, and in my opinion feminist, view of motherhood and the 'woman's lot' but really talks of nothing new and hasn't overly inspired me to read any other books by this author.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2012
Plenty of authors, such as Patrick Hamilton, Anthony Burgess, Somerset Maugham and George Orwell to name a few, have written entertaining books about dull people and their dull existences.
The fact that the subject matter is boring does not mean the book has to be boring as is the case with this novel.
In defter hands, we could have had a more convincing work about the ups and downs of domestic life and how people cope with their husbands, wives, children, relatives and neighbors.
Instead, we get tiresome glimpses into the lives of a group of women living in the same street in some faceless town near London.
I suppose this place is meant to represent all that is wrong with the modern world - identikit houses, shopping malls, traffic, ring roads and commercialism - where they are forced to spend their days.
After an overwritten introduction, describing a rainstorm forming and then crashing down on the town and soaking its inhabitants, we follow a group of characters over a single day.
And what a dismal wet day it turns out to be. I got as far as lunchtime and left them eating their salads and hamburgers as I could not face another word from the whining caricatures who sound like feminist drones from the Guardian.
29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2007
Rachel Cusk has quietly been writing exciting fiction for years. She has been recognised on a literary level - her first novel, Saving Agnes, won The Whitbread First Novel Award, The Country Life won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Lucky Ones was shortlisted for The Whitbread Novel Award, and In The Fold was longlisted for The Booker Prize. Yet commercial success has eluded her somewhat. I have always felt my entreaties to friends to read some Cusk, which have been ongoing for more than a decade, fell on deaf or indifferent ears.
Cusk's subject matter has visibly changed throughout her career. Saving Agnes and The Temporary dealt with girls seeking career success. The Country Life focused on romance, friendship and betrayal. The Lucky Ones came next, followed by In The Fold , which looked at family life and the allure of other people's lives, especially when unconventional. And sometime around there, Cusk became a mother and wrote her non fiction book A Life's Work, which expressed the ambiguity of motherhood, the drudgery of caring for a small child and the loss of self. This latter caused quite a distraught flapping of mother hen wings - to say that motherhood was tiring and boring was tantamount to sacrilege. But Cusk's obvious intelligence and writing talent pulled her through, and deep down many mothers thought she'd hit the nail firmly on its mobile-dangling head.
Arlington Park is a natural progression from that. Following the lives of a disparate group of women through 24 hours in the desirable but stifling suburbs, it homes in on the disatisfaction and ennuie in their lives. There is Juliet, an English teacher at the local High School, who silently rages over the fact that her husband Benedict, fulfilled in his role as inspirational teacher in a failing school, leaves her with most of the monotonous child care for their two kids Katherine and Barnaby. There is Amanda, who keeps her house obsessively clean to the point where she is more concerned about it than about the happiness of her toddler son Eddie. There is Solly, swollen with her fourth pregnancy, who slips into the beguiling world of her various lodgers to escape mundanity. Then there is Christine, comfortably bigoted and devoid of any insight, who wants to lure desirable people to Arlington Park - creative but not too creative, colourful but not of skin. And there is Maisie, object of Christine's lust for moneyed white blood for the area, recently moved to Arlington Park from London with her husband and two daughters.
Cusk writes with her characteristic ability to delight the reader with wry, arch wit and dry, deadpan irony. Her crisp prose draws the hilarity from everyday situations. This may be the illogical rage focused on insignificant objects which happen to be around when one is consumed by livid anger. Juliet's teeth-grinding savagery directed at an opera singer whose dulcet French tones her husband admires, and who is pictured on the sleeve of a record wearing a ballgown on a beach, is an example: 'Of course her French was exquisite! She hadn't had to spend her life looking after Benedict, buying food for him, washing his clothes, bearing and caring for his children! Instead she had thought about herself: she had brushed up her French and then gone down to the beach in her ballgown.' Or, the humour may be understated and derived from description of children's behaviour. Amanda glimpses in her car mirror and sees her toddler Eddie reflected: 'Amanda could see him in the rear-view mirror, self-absorbed and slightly shifty. He kept looking up, apparently to check for unwelcome developments, such as a turn off the High Street to the right that might signify he was being taken to nursery'. Juliet's two children, with the contrasting amost pious goodness of Katherine and the infuriating naughtiness of Barnaby, are another source of laughs.
Cusk has lost none of her ability to sparkle, but there is an underlying bleakness to this book that makes it more dispiriting than her earlier novels. Her disatisfaction with the slavery of motherhood carries into her prose, with most of the women here being unhappy in one way or another. This heaviness of topic at times feels excessive: surely the racist, smug Christine is beyond existential angst? And is it realistic that such a high proportion of the women could do with prozac added to the tapwater? Nevertheless, Cusk's sharp, funny prose and ability to express so much, from the banal to the complex, in intelligent, original language lifts this novel beyond its claustrophobic and depressing world view. Recognition has been a long time coming to Cusk, but she is one of the most important female authors in Britain today.