The Country Life
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The Country Life

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  404 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Stella Benson, eager to change her life, answers a classified ad for an au pair and arrives in a tiny Sussex village that's home to a family slightly larger than life. What drove her to leave home, job, and life in London for such rural ignominy? Why has she severed all ties with her family? Why is she so reluctant to discuss her past? And who, exactly, is Edward?
Hardcover, 341 pages
Published January 1st 1999 by Picador USA (first published 1997)
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Sarah
I remember reading a goodreads review of The Country Life that stated the narrator was pathologically nervous. Naturally, I thought, "Oh, you must be one of those hardy extroverts! Leave the sensitive girls alone!"

Having read it, I can tell you this character is pathologically nervous. Even the narrative style is indicative of anxiety: halting, digressing, perseverating. It disturbed and then frightened me how much I could relate to Stella. These are my fears, my humiliations, my resentments. Th...more
Anne
The first time I read this book, I read it as an intelligent and witty farce. But now, some 14 years later, I see darkness beneath the humorous incidents. The first half of the book is still laugh-out-loud funny as Stella enters the odd world of the Madden family and generates a series of absurd mishaps. Stella's inner dialogue is delicious. The author is a master of language (in that particularly wry British way) as she describes this peculiar family and the other eccentric people falling into...more
Catherine
I found this book completely baffling. The central protagonist acts in ways that are only explicable to me as an expression of mental illness, and yet the reviews I found seemed to suggest it was her employers who were mad. I found it all to be quite in the reverse - at the very least Stella is crippled with social anxiety, misses social cues, and cannot ask for many things directly. (A towel, girl! Ask for a towel!) Her "solutions" to her problems are incredibly foolish, and the constant litany...more
Philip
The Country Life by Rachel Cusk presents several promises, but eventually seems to break most of them. When Stella Benson, a twenty-nine-year-old, leaves home suddenly to take up a private care assistant’s job in darkest south England, it is clear that she is running away. From what we do learn later, but by then we perhaps care rather less about the circumstances.

From the start there was a problem with the book’s point of view. Stella presents a first person narrative couched in a conventional...more
Kieran Walsh
Probably one of the best books I've ever read. I absolutely loved Rachel's style of writing. The topic was somewhat banal and wasn't really that suspensful but I loved the English, syntax and style. I've probably re-read it about 3 times over the past 4 years. It takes a few pages to 'get into it' but couldn't put it down after that. Couldn't recommend highly enough to somebody who appreciates the English language the way it should be written/read.
Julie
An off-beat, slightly bizarre but laugh-out-loud lark of a novel. The protagonist, Stella, abandons her life in London to become a country au pair. Stella is at once the perpetrator and the victim of her own wacky circumstances; she reacts to life with a shriek and a shrug. There isn't much a plot, just a series of occurrences that we cringe through along with Stella. Utterly original.
Maria Ramos
A very good book. Each sentence is carefully crafted, each mundane action and thought is imbued with drama. I bet she worked her butt off writing this book. The ending was a little disappointing, as the plot took an unlikely turn. But overall, a very good book.
Simon Maginn
Rachel Cusk has a completely unique voice, which is perhaps best described as meticulously observed panic. As a stylist, I don't think she can be beaten. She's also impossibly funny.
Mullgirl
I stayed up late to finish this book last night. I’d finally gotten to about page 300 and thought: finally, something is about to happen . . . we’re getting to the point. But alas, no. Literally, when I finished the last page of the book, I turned the page and said: is my book defective? Because it couldn’t possibly end there. But after I checked the page count on Amazon, I realized that it was in fact over. And then I wanted to give a frustrated shriek.

The book was an odd one for me. I often ha...more
Veronica
What an odd little book! It clearly takes some inspiration from Cold Comfort Farm, except that here the family is upper class and the intruder a very odd, lonely girl called Stella, who has left her family in London and come to look after a disabled adolescent. The style is very quirky, staid and rather pompous. It veers from Jane Eyre through Jane Austen to Evelyn Waugh. Stella is a walking disaster; everything she attempts seems to go drastically wrong, culminating in a near-death experience....more
Nicole
I loved this book when I was in my early 20s. I totally identified with Stella's awkwardness and social ineptitude, laughing and cringing while I read and re-read it. I also loved "Cold Comfort Farm" at the time, which one reviewer has already drawn the parallel to. However, Stella is a poor stand in for the supremely self assured Flora, and Rachel Cusk has yet to stand the test of time that Stella Gibbons has. I have yet to revisit this book as an older and more mature human being. I think I'll...more
Selene
I am profoundly jealous of this piece of writing.
Kristen
This is a funny, rather ridiculous, carefully and uniquely written book--while I didn't love it, I am curious to read more of Cusk's work now, because she is clearly a highly imaginative, somewhat off-kilter writer. Cusk is working here with the fairly established narrative of a young city girl who comes to the country as a governess, and gradually becomes embroiled in the sagas of the wacky provincial folk. What lifts "The Country Life" above its premise is the voice of that young girl, Stella:...more
Kate
"Stella Benson answers a classified ad and arrives in a tiny Sussex village, home to a family that is somewhat larger than life. Her hopes for the Maddens may be high, but her station among them -- as au pair to their irascible son Martin -- is undaniably low. It soon becomes clear that Stella falls short of even the meager specifications her new role requires,most noticeably in the area of 'aptitude for the country life.' What could possibly have driven her to leave her home, job, and life in L...more
Lois
I think I read this book many years ago - FORGETFUL BOOK! I plodded along - wondering if I would find answers to some of the mysteries mentioned throughout the book... why did Rachel leave her husband? What was "The Creature" in the village referring to - who was "THE CRETURE?" Lots of flowery language which seemed to be the author SHOWING OFF...........I would NOT recommend this book to anyone Off it goes to the church book sale!
Esther
Such wonderful writing. RC is brilliant. However the whole comedy saga 'supposedly' of this (according to some reviews I googled after finishing this), I didn't get. Maybe its just me but instead of reading characters as silly/bizarre and finding the things they got up to funny etc I found myself thinking hmm some trauma in childhood probably caused this, borderline autistic obviously...
The lead character who takes herself off to start a new life in the country, Stella, I just found exasperating...more
Val
Not an easy style to read, but I'm glad I stuck it out. Favorite line, "it's no good saying that if people aren't perfect you're not going to love them. That's what families are all about. They absorb things. They grow around them. They may end up looking all twisted and ugly, but at least they're strong."
Marguerite
This one had a lot of promise in the early going. But there's something about the British vernacular I found annoying in this novel. I read a lot of English authors, and most of their writing is perfectly palatable. There's unnecessary density to Rachel Cusk's writing, which not only sits heavily on the stomach but also gets in the way of comprehension. It slowed the book down to a glacial pace for me. In the early going, the book reminded me of Bridget Jones's Diary. But the madcap quality didn...more
Karen
Feb 25, 2014 Karen added it
So far it's reading a bit Jane Eyre. Circumlocutions abound. But I will keep on as she is often a superb writer.
Helene
Some of the reviews of this book call it "offbeat" and "quirky", "an oddly ingratiating social comedy"....and I have to agree. The ending felt rushed, like crossing a finish line when the race should only be 2/3rds through. I might read another work of Rachel Cusk's just because I would like to see how she treats another character/plot. I did like some of her word choices, however, I must admit that I skimmed over a few of the extremely lenghtly and verbose passages!
Maya Rock
Often I feel when I like an artist, I always have a FAVORITE and a BEST. The Temporary is my favorite of Rachel Cusk's books but I think The Country Life is the best. It's about this uptight yuppie woman who leaves her fiance behind and takes a position as a nanny to a handicapped child. It's really really funny.

Can you imagine being married to Rachel Cusk? I mean how hard would it be to fool yourself that she was actually happy.
Judy
This was a strange book. I've no doubt that I did not get all the British references. A main thread was class differences. But beyond the cultural themes was the complete picture of what it feels like to be young, 18-20, and know nothing about the world. The heroine was very likeable, if a bit mysterious. Worth the read.
Amy
This book is charming and easy to read. The story of a woman who writes three farewell letters-- to her parents, her lover, and her boss-- and sets out for a life in the country. She compulsively over-thinks things, though not her decision to cut all ties. The ending pays off. It's a fun summer read. A more literary Bridget Jones or some such.
Megan
Really just felt like it was hokey. It lacked believability and was mundane to read.
Suzy Firkin
By far the most infuriating, irritating, pointless novel I have experienced. Voted the least favourite read by reading circle of 10 years standing.
Olivier Lepetit
Great little book, although not necessarily an easy read. Stella is a nutter, but in a nice, quirky way. You can't help to like her for all her faults and her "foster" family are as dysfunctional as she is.
There are a lot of questions left open in this book, but this added to the charm of this novel.
Good read !
Lisa
A tale of unhappy Stella's experience when she flees London to become the helper of disabled teenage Martin. Stella's mishaps living her new country life and adjusting to Martin and his odd "lord of the manor" family can be seen as funny (by Mary Margaret and me) or annoying (by the rest of the group!).
Rigatoni Baloney
Was difficult to get into as the main character is clearly clinically depressed, but as it went along I learned to laugh at the absurdity of it all. This book serenely illustrated there is no such thing as perect family or running away from your problems. Rachel Cusk' prose are amazing.
Alison Davidson
I absolutely loved this book. I loved the main character and how she dealt with her new situation. She seemed a very ordinary girl. The book was also humorous and made me laugh, but was also touching with the relationship with the disabled son. I would recommend this book.
tj
The writing style of this book was so odd; I felt like I was reading it in another language at first. I finally got used to it about a third of the way through, and really enjoyed it.

I give it 3 instead of 4 stars because the ending is so... unfinished. I hate that.
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RACHEL CUSK is the Whitbread Award–winning author of two memoirs, including The Last Supper, and seven novels, including Arlington Park, Saving Agnes, The Temporary, The Country Life, and The Lucky Ones. She lives in Brighton, England.
More about Rachel Cusk...
Arlington Park A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother The Lucky Ones The Bradshaw Variations Saving Agnes

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