Joan Didion once wrote that "we tell ourselves stories in order to live." Rachel Cusk's "Outline" illustrates this love of storytelling. The narratorJoan Didion once wrote that "we tell ourselves stories in order to live." Rachel Cusk's "Outline" illustrates this love of storytelling. The narrator of the book, a woman writer from England, tells the stories of all the people she encounters, beginning with a man she meets on a flight to Greece and continuing with all the various acquaintances she meets in the country where she is teaching a writing course for a few days. The book consists entirely of the different monologues of the people. The man on the plane, referred to only as "the neighbor," details the dramas of his multiple marriages, giving an unsurprisingly biased account of his three wives and their flaws. The narrator is separated from her husband, her life seems to be in turmoil, but the book buries her story underneath those of the people she encounters, sometimes allowing details to surface. Overall, the narrator remains a mystery throughout the text.
During the writing class in Greece, the narrator asks her students to tell stories about what they noticed on the way to the class. The exercise is viewed as so pointless by one student that she storms out, demanding a refund. What I got from the writing class scenes was the idea that being a writer is about more than putting words to paper. It's about more than grammar and syntax. To be a writer is to see the world in a unique way, it means having open eyes to the world around you and registering the nuances of consciousness, it means discovering the extraordinary in the mundane. The disgruntled student doesn't understand how sitting in a room telling stories could make her a better writer. but it's precisely the act of telling a story, of shaping our chaotic everyday life into a concise narrative, that is the foundation of writing.
As I read "Outline," I found myself paying more attention to things--to how my cat purrs when I rub her chin and the sound of the frog croaking outside my bedroom window and the conversations I have with others. All these ordinary occurrences acquired greater meaning because I noticed them more and studied them and felt them and gave them my full attention instead of dismissing them as unimportant or banal. We all have stories to tell and most of us feel the urge to share those stories with other people, whether it's a stranger on an airplane, a teacher in a classroom, or a close friend in a cafe. Cusk's book affirms this desire, this need, for storytelling and how it bonds us together and enriches our lives....more
Bilodo is a Montreal postman who opens people's letters. He's particularly obsessed with the correspondence between Ségolène and Gaston Grandpré. TheiBilodo is a Montreal postman who opens people's letters. He's particularly obsessed with the correspondence between Ségolène and Gaston Grandpré. Their epistles to one another are written in the form of haiku. Bilodo falls in love with Ségolène through her poetry. When Gaston dies, Bilodo takes the opportunity to inhabit the dead man's life--he rents his apartment, wears his red kimono, and continues the correspondence with Segolene without telling her that Gaston is dead.
Bilodo is a man consumed by his own inner dream world. The book details many of Bilodo's elaborate dreams and shows how the lonely postman shuns human connection in his everyday life. A fellow postman named Robert, who plays an important role in the latter part of the narrative, offers his friendship; and there's Tania, a waitress at the café Bilodo frequents, who shows romantic interest in him, but Bilodo is blind to everyone except Ségolène , a woman he has constructed out of his fantasies and the few poems she has written. But can he love Ségolène as a real, flesh-and-blood person? What happens when reality intrudes on our dreams? Can we really know someone, and fall in love with them, solely through words? The text raises all these questions and more.
It's a love story, a crash course in haiku and Zen philosophy, an exploration of loneliness, fate, and obsession....more