July 2018

Noted
by Stephanie Bishop

‘Kudos’ by Rachel Cusk
A masterful trilogy concludes

Partway through Rachel Cusk’s memoir Aftermath, in which she recounts the breakdown of her marriage, she reaches a point of maximum crisis. This is not a moment of high drama, but a destabilising realisation that as a result of her suffering she now lives at one remove, as “an observer”. A witness to the lives of others, but unable and unwilling to make decisions that will affect them, she recognises that “the only certainty I can locate in myself is that of my desire to undermine authority itself”.

This is an attitude recorded in autobiographical mode, but it also informs the radical aesthetic of Cusk’s Faye trilogy, of which Kudos is the final instalment. In each of these novels, Faye, the narrator, relinquishes narrative authority; hovering on the margin, her voice is overwritten by the life stories of those she encounters. We follow her through a series of seamless exchanges as she teaches creative writing in Greece (Outline), has her flat renovated (Transit), and now, in Kudos (Faber; $29.99), takes part in a book tour following her recent remarriage.

In Kudos, nothing quite goes to plan. Rather than giving her the opportunity to speak on behalf of her work, the interviews and publicity events routinely fail to run as scheduled, or else the interviewers unwittingly tell their own stories as a way of framing the forthcoming dialogue that in the end never occurs. Once again, Faye is the evasive listener.

However, in this volume the disclosures hinge on a pointed and common theme: the relationship between freedom, suffering and female invisibility. Women in particular confide in Faye as they flee husbands, or realise they are bound to them, or grapple with other forms of artistic and private disappointment. In one way or another, each woman acknowledges that she has been complicit in the curtailing of her own freedom, and must now reckon with the meaning of her suffering as she finds a way to reconceive her life.

At the fringe of these monologues we learn of Faye’s own desire to rid herself of all delusions, an impulse that is reflected in Cusk’s masterful stylistic austerity. Faye never indulges in the decoration of her experience, and never succumbs to the fantasy of her own progress. In this way, Cusk resists the conventional narrative arc of the novel and refuses to promote the heroism of her protagonist. Instead, as the keeper of other people’s stories, Faye so absorbs the problem of female invisibility that her own dramatic disclosure becomes a moving impossibility. A novel of strange power, Kudos confirms Cusk’s trilogy as a definitive work of our time.

Stephanie Bishop

Stephanie Bishop is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of New South Wales. Her new novel is Man Out of Time.


View Edition

In This Issue

Image of Ronan Farrow

The end of American diplomacy: Ronan Farrow’s ‘War on Peace’

The Pulitzer Prize winner explains how the State Department’s problems started long before Trump

Image of Australian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale

Two worlds at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale

The consumption of space, land and habitat is Australia’s focus at the world’s pre-eminent architecture event

Still from Brothers’ Nest

Dirty work in Clayton Jacobson’s ‘Brothers’ Nest’

The filmmakers behind ‘Kenny’ take a darker turn

Illustration

Voice, Treaty, Truth

An uncoordinated approach to treaty-making creates a quandary for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples


Read on

Image of Supermoon over Footscray. Image © Tim McCartney 2015

Lunar orbit

The strange paths taken by the mind when overwhelmed by fear

Cover image for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘The Morning Star’

Hell’s kitchen: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘The Morning Star’

The ‘My Struggle’ author’s first novel in 17 years considers the mundanity of everyday acts amid apocalyptic events

Image of Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in HBO’s Succession season 3. Photograph by David Russell/HBO

Ties that bind: ‘Succession’ season three

Jeremy Strong’s performance in the HBO drama’s third season is masterful

Image of a tampon and a sanitary pad viewed from above

A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body