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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An hysterical account of a woman's countryside tribulations
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...
Published on 14 April 1999

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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sussex Life
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...
Published on 11 April 2003 by tamsin


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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An hysterical account of a woman's countryside tribulations, 14 April 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Country Life (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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sussex Life, 11 April 2003
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This review is from: The Country Life (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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When "Cold Comfort" has a heat wave, 24 Oct 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Country Life (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
3.0 out of 5 stars Several characters in search of a plot, 6 Jan 2012
This review is from: The Country Life (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. They have children, all of whom seem to have inherited different mixes of the foibles on offer. There's a local scandal or two, rumours of mis-treatment, sexual impropriety and more, but it always seems to dissolve into innuendo. This, perhaps, is the country life.

Stella herself is incompetent in the extreme. She gets sunburnt - in England(!), soils her shoes with melted tar from the road, gets drunk several times, falls into the pool, gets lost, cuts up her clothing, behaves inappropriately, steals on demand and can't find the garden gate. It's quite a week. As the book progresses, it seems unsure whether it should be a sit-com or a farce.

But at the centre of The Country Life is Stella's developing relationship with Martin. He is used to being the centre of attention and knows how to play the part, how to manipulate. He may, it seems, have inherited much from his mother and perhaps a lot less from his father.

The Country Life is beautifully written. It is both funny and engaging. Stella's life becomes increasingly a farce, however, and this crowds out some of the other themes that might have come more interestingly to the fore. Rachel Cusk's writing is always fluent, perhaps overdone here and there, but when you are that good at it, a little over-egging just adds to the richness.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, funny, compelling, 12 May 2006
This review is from: The Country Life (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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1.0 out of 5 stars The Country Life, 23 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Country Life (Kindle Edition)
This is a truly badly written book and I should like to return it please. I cannot think how any editor passed it for publication. Slow, uninteresting and quite without pace. No not rude or crude - just very boring. I felt cheated.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a funny book!, 25 Mar 2004
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Warrior God (Albion kicking chickens) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Country Life (Paperback)
This book was my first experience reading Rachel Cusk. How can someone who *appears* to write as wordily and starchily as Anita Brookner make all the little details add up to this hilarious portrait of a fish out of water? By the third chapter I was completely hooked on Stella and her new country life. As funny as Clare Chambers but with a very different writing style.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Country Life, 6 Jan 2008
This review is from: The Country Life (Paperback)
My initial thought about this book was that the prose was a little over-written and old fashioned - it reminded me a bit of Jane Eyre. However, a few pages in and I was hooked. Stella is an extraordinary character, nothing ever goes right for her, and even a straightforward walk has to end in disaster. The other characters were completely over the top, and yet strangely believable. I grew to be quite fond of Martin and even Pam had her moments. The description of the excessively hot summer was very effective, I could almost feel the heat - no mean feat when you consider that I read several chapters in my lunch break whilst sitting on a carrier bag on a snow covered bench! Overall, a very good, compelling funny read. The only snag was the number of balls left in the air - the suggestion of incest, affairs, neighbourly disputes and Stella's future with the family were by no means resolved.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confused concept, muddled execution, 13 Jan 2008
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Caterkiller (Darlington, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Country Life (Paperback)
This is pretty disappointing from Rachel Cusk. Her later novel, "The Temporary" is one of my favourite books but this is a missed opportunity. It tries to satirise a city-dweller having a midlife crisis by moving to the country but it just doesn't work. Despite being an intellectual high flier the central character of Stella seems to be struck down with dyspraxia as soon as she leaves Notting Hill and too many open goals are ignored (if you are going to write about the country at least put the boot into the Morris dancers!). Too many of the characters have back-stories which are hinted at but not explored and the open-ending may have worked better in a literary novel tackling deeper issues (such as Ishiguro's "Never let Me Go") but here it just seems like the author gave up.
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