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.


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In This Issue

Image of Michael Cook, Court (2014), no. 7 from the Majority Rule series

‘Colony’ at NGV Australia

Twin exhibitions explore the very different experiences of settlement for European and Indigenous peoples

Illustration

Crafting a ceramic habitat for a handfish

Hobart artist Jane Bamford is helping a critically endangered fish to spawn

A sorry procession

A day in the life of the Geelong Magistrates’ Court

Image of Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall

The endless reign of Rupert Murdoch

After decades of influence, the media mogul isn’t so much a person as an epoch


Read on

Still from Shane Meadows’ ‘The Virtues’

Vice grip: ‘The Virtues’

Shane Meadows’ astonishing series stems from a late reckoning with his own childhood abuse

Cover image of ‘The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen’

Body language: ‘The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen’

Echoing folktales and fables, Krissy Kneen’s memoir contemplates the body’s visceral knowledge of inherited trauma

Cartoon image of man standing on chess board

Reality is irreversible

The systems game and the need for global regime change

Image of Cristin Milioti as Hazel Green-Gogol in Made for Love

Can’t get you out of my head: ‘Made for Love’

Leading April’s streaming highlights is a subversive black comedy that takes coercive control to its digital extreme