February 2017

Noted
by Kevin Rabalais

‘Transit’ by Rachel Cusk
Jonathan Cape; $32.99

A novel, to paraphrase Stendhal, is a mirror travelling down a road. In Outline (2015) and Transit – the first two published volumes of a proposed trilogy – Canadian-born, UK-based novelist Rachel Cusk offers disconcerting reflections about the way we live. The daily life of her narrator, Faye, takes her through the streets of London. There, she segues among a chorus of disparate voices and chronicles the disconnected lives and secrets of those she encounters, all the while maintaining an often icy mystery about herself.

Transit opens after the narrator returns to London from teaching a summer writing seminar in Greece, a trip that Cusk recounts in Outline. The narrator’s philosophy, as we find it in Transit, is that “Freedom is a home you leave once and can never go back to.” Divorced and raising her children alone, she strives to re-locate a sense of freedom. “I said it seemed to me that most marriages worked in the same way that stories are said to do, through the suspension of disbelief.”

These, however, are rare forays into the narrator’s mind. A master of the lost art of listening, she offers little judgement as she collects stories of ex-lovers, builders, hairdressers, students and writers. These characters find themselves and their ideas in transition, whether regarding aspects of love and life, the process of ageing and creation, or the ethical and moral questions that a daily sojourn through the neighbourhood incites us to address. In Outline, Cusk’s narrator admits a desire to “find a different way of living in the world”. These books also show Cusk seeking a different way of writing. Although her style can be at times essayistic, she seduces us into a claustrophobic narrative that reveals the flaws in the technology and codes of our time. This allows her to examine each of the characters’ growing separation from themselves and one another. This, too, becomes part of Cusk’s achievement. In Transit, one character admits to Faye that he “actually felt something akin to love … for the female voice that guided him while he was driving his car, so much more devotedly than his wife ever had”. Another says, “We are so schooled … in the doctrine of self-acceptance that the idea of refusing to accept yourself becomes quite radical.”

In these books, Cusk reveals herself as a writer with an acerbic humour and a probing mind. Her style and substance coalesce to highlight the tales of those among us who are so trapped in the frenzied hum of their lives that they remain unaware of their own ennui or their purpose. Transit urges us into uncomfortable spaces. It is lucid, invigorating and, most of all, unsettling.

Kevin Rabalais

Kevin Rabalais is the author of The Landscape of Desire.

February 2017

In This Issue

Illustration

Relying on Trump

Australia needs to rethink its approach to regional security

Image of the Pilbara, Western Australia.

This storied land

Mark McKenna’s ‘From the Edge’ tells four fascinating stories of Aboriginal and settler interaction through the history of place

Illustration

A big dump

Why is the South Australian government so enthused about a nuclear waste dump?

Still from Toni Erdmann

A German comedy?

Maren Ade’s ‘Toni Erdmann’ is one of the most misread movies of the year


Read on

Paul Feig’s sophisticated ‘A Simple Favour’

This camp study of sociopathy is far from simple

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition

Image of Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Turnbull fires back

Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’

Image from ‘In Fabric’

Toronto International Film Festival 2018 (part one)

A British outlier and a British newcomer are among the stand-outs in the first part of the festival


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