Coventry Essays

Rachel Cusk, 1967-

Book - 2019

The author's first collection of essays about motherhood, marriage, feminism, and art both offers new insights on the themes at the heart of her fiction and forges a startling critical voice on some of our most urgent personal, social, and artistic questions.

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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2019.
First American edition
Physical Description
248 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Rachel Cusk, 1967- (author)
Review by Booklist Review

Stories figure prominently in this collection of essays, all originally published or forthcoming elsewhere, by Cusk, author of the Outline trilogy. They're addressed, of course, in the collection's seven pieces about literature, from classics like The Age of Innocence to best-sellers like Never Let Me Go. But stories are also at the crux of essays about driving, relationships, homemaking, and parenting. It was as if driving was a story I had suddenly stopped believing in, Cusk writes in Driving as Metaphor. It is almost as if she feels that the true story of her family has eluded her, she speculates about a friend in the collection's titular essay. She writes of the home as her mother's novel, and of the public narrative of parenthood. Stories, Cusk insists, are not just the stuff of literature. They are our way of being in the world. We suspend our disbelief. We repeat. We elide. We exaggerate. To make sense of reality's chaos, we create narratives that, though they may bend the truth, produce order. Opening up the deep crevices of everyday life's paradoxes, myths, and more, Cusk pulls apart the stories we tell to reflect on the mess underneath.--Maggie Taft Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Memoirist and novelist Cusk (Kudos) turns her perceptive gaze and distinctive voice to a variety of topics in her arresting first essay collection. Broken into three sections, the volume takes its title from an English term for "the silent treatment," which typified how Cusk's parents disciplined her as a child. The opening chapters focus on memoir, but within the context of broader questions about society, families, women and work, and what makes a home. Cusk tackles, in addition to her fraught relationship with her parents, life after separating from her husband and with her daughters as they become teenagers (in the deliciously titled "Lions on Leashes"). In the second section, she examines art and its creation, in one piece grappling with "women's writing" in terms of Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir ("Shakespeare's Sisters"). The final section ventures into literary criticism with analyses of writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro, D.H. Lawrence, Olivia Manning, and Edith Wharton. There is an element of stream of consciousness to Cusk's prose, with its effortless transitions from one idea to another. However, the overriding thread binding her essays is the uses of narrative, particularly for allowing people to make sense of their lives. It's something Cusk interrogates exceptionally well throughout this well-crafted compilation. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

A striking collection of essays from the acclaimed British novelist.In three thematically organized sections, Cusk, a winner of the Whitbread and Somerset Maugham Awards who is also renowned for her Outline trilogy (Kudos, 2018, etc.), brilliantly delves into expansive realms of personal memoir and social and literary criticism. In the titular essay, the author reflects on her odd, sometimes-tense relationship with her parents, who, for unaccountable reasons, will periodically stop speaking to hera phenomenon that in England is referred to as "being sent to Coventry." Cusk then expands her account of this experience to address further complex and sometimes strained aspects of her domestic life. Readers of the author's first-person fiction will be pleased with the acutely observant narrative voice that characterizes these introspective meditations on family, motherhood, marriage, and community. "Part of the restlessness and anxiety I feel at home has, I realize, to do with time: I am forever waiting, as though home is a provisional situation that at some point will end," she writes. "I am looking for that ending, that resolution, looking for it in domestic work as I look for the end of a novel by writing. At home I hardly ever sit down: the new sofa has nothing to fear from me." In the section entitled "A Tragic Pastime," Cusk deals with broader ideas of creative self-expression, gender politics, and the writing process. In the essay "Shakespeare's Sisters," the author sets Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own as alternating touchstones for considering the identity and concept of women's writing within a male-dominated culture. In the final section, Cusk offers fresh perspectives on Edith Wharton and D.H. Lawrence and argues for the importance of Franoise Sagan, Olivia Manning, and Natalia Ginzburg. She also directs her discerning eye toward Kazuo Ishiguro and his novel Never Let Me Go and an even sharper edge to her withering assessment of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.An eloquent and engrossing selection of nonfiction writing that will enhance Cusk's stature in contemporary literature. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.