Top positive review
10 November 2017
Outline is a novel written in the first person major who is consciously telling the story. The initially nameless, female writer, flies out to Athens for a week to teach a writing summer school class. The novel is set in the modern day. We come to learn that the narrator is a recently divorced mother. The narrators experience during the teaching week is the frame story, around which we get to know the other characters life stories, with a philosophical point of view
The first two male characters are nameless. The first she refers to as the ‘billionaire’ the second who features predominately, is referred to as the ‘neighbough’. The billionaire has lunch with the narrator and completely outlines his life story — not leaving time to discuss the literary magazine he was thinking of starting up. The ‘neighbough,' who she initially sits next to on the aeroplane, tells the narrator his complete life story from his schooling to his failed marriages. He then later goes on to make a clumsy pass at her aboard his boat during the second of their two rendezvous.
The first named character is Ryan, another writer who is teaching alongside her at the summer school. Ryan comes across as an unlikeable character. Cusk achieves this by describing how he chooses to walk on the inside of the pavement, whilst explaining he doesn't want to be a road casualty statistic — leaving the narrator to walk on the busy roadside. He also shares his life story whilst leering at a young waitress, then justify’s himself by announcing ‘my wife eyeballs the fellas.’ Cusk (2015,p.45) Ryan later finds the narrators friend Elena attractive, but quickly makes his excuses to leave when he hears they are meeting Melete a pre-eminent lesbian poet.
The next character to open up to the narrator is divorced Paniotis. An old writer friend quickly followed by Angeliki, a successful author. Angeliki sees herself as a spokesperson for suffering womanhood, but ironically claims she is afraid when traveling to new and familiar cities without her husband. Both discuss distancing relations with their children. The narrators own children only contact her fleetingly when they want something. Cusk writes about a few of the students at the summer school who vary in personality and neuroses.
Cusk demonstrates that the narrator is a judgemental and unfriendly character when she writes ‘it was this eccentricity that had made me answer him’ Cusk (2015,p.6) implying that if the ‘neighbough’ wasn't eccentric she would have refused to answer him. The narrator is a contrarian and doesn't hold back voicing her thoughts on other peoples lives. She is sharp and intelligent and judges conversation as though she is critiquing a book. ‘I remained dissatisfied by the story…lacked objectivity…relied too heavily on extremes…the moral properties it ascribed to those extremes were often incorrect.’ Cusk (2015,p.29) This demonstrates the narrator takes things literally when listening to dialogue and constantly looks for flaws and consequently finds them. The narrator is a woman of few spoken words and appears to have a mystical presence that when people meet her they openly share their life story. Allowing the narrator to judge their stories for preciseness and bias.
Throughout Outline there is a strong theme of failed relationships. Cusk, an author and divorcee wrote Aftermath (2012) a controversial book detailing her own separation and divorce which received much criticism. Previously Cusk wrote A life's work (2001) a frank and honest book about her becoming a mother. Outline seems to be somewhat of an amalgamation of these concepts, maybe hinting at an autobiographical element. Cusk certainly seems to have written what she knows and the reflective and argumentative side of the narrator is of no surprise when armed with this knowledge.
As a writer I find Cusk has bravely laid out her soul in her books and I am surprised that this has not left her feeling exposed or vulnerable. I hesitate as to whether I could dare to do the same. Sharing a short poem of brutal-inner honesty, is just about cringingly manageable. Someone reading an entire novel of me philosophically musing about my relationships, and their total and utter failure is like being stood nailed, and naked on a brightly lit church pulpit. Could I?