“Lethally intelligent…spend much time with this novel and you’ll become convinced that [Cusk] is one of the smartest writers alive.”
I’m not sure I agree with lethal, but I agree that she is a fiercely intelligent writer, and I also agree that it takes time to come to that conclusion. I didn’t think I was going to like Outline when I was 10, even 20 pages into it. But the reviews and its prize nomination pedigree made me stick it out. Thank Goodness.
This isn’t a warm book, and I think for me, coming off my high from reading Olive Kitteridge in January, a book that is brilliant and emotionally gripping, Outline felt like it kept me at arms-length. Which isn’t surprising because Cusk completely roasts the old writing chestnut: Show Don’t Tell. This is a book about telling. It’s a book that would most likely have failed in other hands.
The narrator, who is the human notebook into which these story “outlines” are deposited, is a novelist working as a writing instructor in a summer school in Athens, Greece. Over the course of the novel we learn a bit of her story, but mostly we hear the life stories of the friends, strangers and students who cross her path. This could be dull indeed, except that somehow it isn’t. This book is so deeply observed that you have to stop, reread and reflect. Continue reading