Thursday, March 23, 2017

Transit by Rachel Cusk: A review

I feel hypnotized by Rachel Cusk's method of storytelling. We sit down with our friend, Rachel, or Faye as she is known in the book, and she proceeds to tell us the story of her interactions and conversations with any number of people who have crossed paths with her. Thus, we get to eavesdrop on her conversations with two of her friends, with fellow writers at a book festival, with her Eastern European builders, an ex-lover, her hair stylist, one of her students, etc. All of these conversations focus on the other person, with Faye as the listener, the confidante, counsellor, or confessor. Nothing much happens here and yet the reader is utterly transfixed by the unfolding tale.

We met Faye in Outline, the first book of this planned trilogy. She is a writer and teacher. She is recently divorced and semi-broke. In this book, she has just moved to London with her two young sons and has bought a run-down ex-council property in a good neighborhood, and now she is trying to renovate it. (That's where the Eastern European builders come in.)

Her apartment is upstairs in the building. Downstairs, in the basement apartment live an elderly, almost feral couple, with their elderly dog. They are appalled by the noise of the remodeling effort and are constantly banging on the ceiling of their apartment with a broom to protest, or else they are rushing up the stairs and banging on Faye's apartment door to complain in person.

The noise and squalor of remodeling seem almost to be a reflection of Faye's own life, an existence that is in transition, as she tries to find her way and make a new life for herself and her sons. 

As we move from one conversation to the next throughout this narrative, it becomes clear that much of what Faye is listening to is the sound of human loneliness. We feel the loneliness of the person whose story Faye is narrating and also Faye's own melancholia as she searches for meaning.

Faye moves from person to person in the narrative much like a bee moves from flower to flower, and the result is a cross-pollination of truths as told by all these different speakers. In the end, perhaps the amalgamation of all those stories will give the listener a clearer picture as to the way forward.

At the end of this narrative, we feel that Faye really is on the cusp of some major transition in her life. We'll have to wait for the third volume in the trilogy to find out if our instinct is correct and just what that transition might be.

Rachel Cusk is a very clever and talented writer. Her method of writing seems so straightforward and effortless and yet I am sure that she worked very hard to present that impression. She obviously has a well-thought-out plan for this trilogy. I look forward to seeing where that plan will lead us in the third book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 comments:

  1. I thought the story seemed familiar; it must have been the first book in the trilogy that you reviewed and I remembered.

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    1. I read and reviewed the first one earlier this year, so it was quite recent.

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  2. So many books! I want to read this trilogy, so much. Thanks for your review. You made me want to read these books even more.

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    1. I think you would enjoy them, Judy. They are thoughtful, reflective, philosophical - very much your cup of tea, I think!

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