I had been looking forward to this third entry in Rachel Cusk's Outline series. I found the two earlier books, Outline and Transit, to be remarkable works that were thought-provoking reads. With the release of Kudos, one can see now that all three are pieces of a whole and they fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces in the narrative that Cusk has constructed.
Cusk's story-teller once again is Faye, a middle-aged writer divorced from the father of her two sons and now remarried, although that marriage seems to play a very small role in her daily life. Faye travels - a lot it seems. She's always on the go to conferences or literary festivals or publicity tours that her publisher has arranged to promote her latest book. And in her travels, she constantly meets people who want to talk to her, who want to tell her the stories of their lives and their innermost secrets. Faye reports these mostly one-way conversations to us unedited and there is something almost magical in the way that we get a clear picture of the person who is talking by reading Faye's transcriptions of their words.
Seldom do we hear Faye speak. She is the most self-effacing of narrators, almost never inserting her thoughts into the narrative and yet, even in her silence, we do gain a full portrait of her as well, simply by listening to the way people talk to her and the things they say to her and about her.
She does take time and care to describe the settings of her conversations - the hotels, the restaurants, the planes, the walks on the streets of the city - and her descriptions are almost photographic in their clarity.
Not only her descriptions of the settings but her descriptions of the people who talk to her are sharply perceptive. We "see" those people as if they were standing in front of us.
But the stories these people tell are the thing. They talk about their lives, their loves, families, friends, jobs. Many of the tales revolve around marriage, separation, and children. In this, the stories reflect Faye's life as well and the life of the author since she, too, was married and divorced and is dealing with raising two sons on her own.
In Kudos, Faye travels to an unnamed sunny port city in Europe to participate in a literary festival. The theme of the book seems to be success and failure: which writer(s) will succeed and thrive; which will win the prize and what will it cost them? In Outline, we got the parameters of Faye's self-definition; in Transit, she was moving on, renovating her house, redefining her life; now we see the outcome of all that effort and where it has taken her.
Several of the stories told to Faye and her own experiences to some extent deal with sexism or ageism. The difference in how the work of women writers is judged seems a subtle theme of the book. And the final scene of the book (no spoilers here) is so gross and seemingly fraught with metaphor and symbol that it makes this point in a particularly literal and primal way.
Rachel Cusk's accomplishment with this trilogy has been extraordinary, in my opinion. Her unique method of telling the story almost entirely through a second-person narrative was brilliantly creative. Faye's story is one that I will not soon forget.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars