Outline by Rachel Cusk


I think that one’s impression of a book depends a lot on the moment of her life when she reads it—the particular time and state of mind. ‘The Outline’ was my devoted friend during my trip to Costa Rica on a vacation that I needed so badly. After long months of stress—changing jobs, changing apartments and my life itself—the refreshing and relaxing air of Latin America put me in an exited and ecstatic mood which also influenced my perception of things.

If love is what is held to make us immortal, hatred is the reverse.

The book itself consists of ten chapters, ten different conversations on life, marriage, love and soul-searching. (perspicacity). All these conversations are dialogues between the main character, a writer who comes to teach a class in Athens, and the people she meets during her stay in the city.

To be honest, when I read the book description I imagined it to be completely different. A female writer teaching creative writing in Greece reminded me of old Greek philosophy schools, and I saw Hepatica sitting on the steps of the Agora temple under a hot and exhausting sun, talking to her students about life, religion and astrology. Well, I guess that’s not the case for ‘Editor’s choice of New York Times’.

The case is that the book is about people who mostly failed in their marriages or who are struggling through existing relationships. They constantly whine that what they used to believe appeared to be just an illusion, or that it’s so hard sometimes to realize that you are not twelve and have responsibilities. They usually do it while drinking coffee, swimming in the sea or just during a writing class.

I mean, you never hear someone say they wanted to have an affair but they couldn’t find the time, do you?

I might not like this book under different circumstances. But it went just well with a relaxed and placid pace of my trip. Hiking in the rain forests, driving through tiny and poorly developed villages, hanging out on a beach or dancing to Latin American music at the bar, I felt that I could close or pick up the book at any time without being tied up to it. I didn’t feel attached to it or any of its characters so I felt free. This is a book one can open at any chapter and start reading at any time. So ironic, Cortazar spent years experimenting with structure and composition to create a novel which makes the reader jump from chapter to chapter breaking a usual flow of a story-telling. He’d be amazed how simply it could be resolved! You just write a book without any plot! No plot, no conflict, all the characters are just outlines, and voila, the book is ready.

And of those two ways of living – living in the moment and living outside it – which was more real?

Nevertheless, the one thing that made this book stand out to me was Rusk’s writing. Her attention to details and amazing ability to listen and observe turned the book into a fine journey through an observatory of human souls. All of them, as empty shapes to be filled in, outlines looking for the right content, reminded me of people I know and sometimes of myself. I think that was the purpose of the book and if that, Rusk succeeded.

My score: