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The Country Life

3.48  ·  Rating Details ·  565 Ratings  ·  77 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 June 20th 1997)
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Catherine
Jan 06, 2010 Catherine rated it did not like it
Shelves: england, 2010
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
Sarah
Jul 27, 2010 Sarah rated it liked it
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
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.
Mullgirl
Jan 19, 2015 Mullgirl rated it it was ok
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
Anne
Nov 22, 2011 Anne rated it really liked it
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
Philip
Oct 01, 2011 Philip rated it liked it
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
Hugh
Jun 07, 2016 Hugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2016
On one level this is a very enjoyable farce that is consciously reminiscent of Cold Comfort Farm. On another it is a nightmarish tale of a naive and hapless woman trying to escape her life by accepting a position as a companion to the disabled son of an argumentative and dysfunctional upper middle class family on a remote farm in Sussex, despite an obvious lack of qualifications and experience. Cusk does not spare any of her characters much sympathy, so the comedy is pretty dark in places, and l ...more
Kieran Walsh
Dec 13, 2008 Kieran Walsh rated it it was amazing
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.
Simon Maginn
Jan 02, 2010 Simon Maginn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
eb
Dec 15, 2015 eb rated it liked it
Maybe you have to be English to get this book. It's meant to be a dark comic novel parodying the city-person-moves-to-the-country genre, but many of the jokes fall flat to my American ear--and I'm an Anglophile obsessed with Diary of a Nobody, Love, Nina, and other similar books. None of the early setups pay off, and maybe that's part of the joke, but I found it disappointing. I did believe utterly in all of the characters, and loved Martin, the wry disabled kid whom the protagonist is hired to ...more
Maria Ramos
Jul 28, 2011 Maria Ramos rated it really liked it
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.
Veronica
Mar 23, 2009 Veronica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mooched, fiction
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
Jenny
This one just didn't work for me. I didn't see the humor that some other readers described; I was only mildly interested in the characters and kept reading in hopes that something was going to happen or there was ultimately going to be a point, but... nothing. There are far too many books on my reading list; I fear I just wasted precious time that could have been put to much better use.
Karen Angelico
Jul 06, 2016 Karen Angelico rated it really liked it
I read The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock just before reading The Country Life and the styles of these two books couldn't be more different. Having been immersed in bare prose, sparse dialogue where every word takes on a resonance, Rachel Cusk's style seemed overbearingly floral! Once I had read the first couple of chapters I settled into her style and loved reading this book. The character of Stella is absurd, accident prone and funny. A subtle kind of humour weaves it's way through the book. ...more
Crystal
Apr 04, 2016 Crystal rated it really liked it
In some ways, reading a book by Rachel Cusk is simply painful. Not because it's badly written - far from it - but because Cusk has a way of unraveling her characters' mental states until they stand fully exposed and defenseless before the reader. There is quite a lot we don't know about Stel la, the main character. Why did she leave her husband? Why did she marry him in the first place? Still, when Cusk gives us access to Stella's own ruminations about her motivation or actions, we are ruthlessl ...more
Maya Rock
Jul 12, 2007 Maya Rock rated it it was amazing
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.
Lois
Jun 10, 2014 Lois rated it did not like it
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!
Suzy Firkin
Jan 06, 2014 Suzy Firkin rated it did not like it
By far the most infuriating, irritating, pointless novel I have experienced. Voted the least favourite read by reading circle of 10 years standing.
Nicole
Feb 28, 2014 Nicole rated it it was amazing
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
Megan
Jan 23, 2014 Megan rated it did not like it
Really just felt like it was hokey. It lacked believability and was mundane to read.
Selene
Mar 08, 2009 Selene rated it really liked it
Shelves: mar09
I am profoundly jealous of this piece of writing.
Katie Rowswell
Sep 02, 2014 Katie Rowswell rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kristen
Oct 20, 2012 Kristen rated it liked it
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
Jul 27, 2013 Kate rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Susan
Jun 26, 2016 Susan rated it it was ok
I read The Country Life several weeks ago and while I never warmed up to any of the novel's over the top characters, I found the book's 'Nothing is what it seems' stance mildly amusing. Now coming back to write a review, I realize how very little of this all frosting no cake story stuck with me. If British satire is what you're looking for I recommend skipping Rachel Cusk altogether and checking out Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm or Sadie Jones The Uninvited Guests.
Daniel Chaikin
Jan 21, 2015 Daniel Chaikin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stella drops everything, leaves everything in London behind, including her job, family and partner, to become a caretaker for an adolescent boy on a wealthy farm in the English countryside. She wants a clean break. All and all there maybe isn't much here, but the language is wonderfully precise and characters are each entertaining in their own dysfunctional ways. I was entertained as Stella narratives every thing and every thought so carefully, precisely and rationally, and yet what she does con ...more
Natasha
Feb 20, 2015 Natasha rated it really liked it
An utterly irritating at times, hilarious at others, main character that often had me wanting to shout out loud and shake her out of her indecisiveness and hesitant nature. She's a little like me really. Shades of Cold Comfort Farm with wonderfully eccentric characters and mysteries to discover (but not in the woodshed).
Esther
Aug 01, 2013 Esther rated it really liked it
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
Heidi
Jun 27, 2015 Heidi rated it it was ok
This one was recommended by one of my favorite bloggers so I decided to read it. I would give it between two and three stars. My library didn't have a copy so I got one online for a deal. If anyone would like it, just let me know. I'm willing to share.
Val
Feb 21, 2014 Val rated it liked it
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."
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Rachel Cusk was born in Canada, and spent some of her childhood in Los Angeles, before her family returned to England, in 1974, when Cusk was 8yo. She read English at New College, Oxford.

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 has won and
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