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(Outline #1)

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  16,697 ratings  ·  2,340 reviews
A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.

Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the sto
Hardcover, 249 pages
Published September 4th 2014 by Faber & Faber
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Helen Jacoby I suspect they got divorced, but I don't think we really know.

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3.60  · 
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 ·  16,697 ratings  ·  2,340 reviews

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Feb 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Damn you, Rachel Cusk. This book was absolutely infuriating. As I was reading it, I kept telling myself that I hated it. And so, I burned through it in a a little more than 24 hours. It bears little resemblance to any other novel I've ever read. The characters seem vague and unformed, but they come through with periodic startling observations about life and human nature that hit me like a punch in the stomach. The "star system" here on Goodreads is totally useless for this book. (Yeah, it's prob ...more
Violet wells
Reading Outline is like spying on an author in the process of auditioning characters for a future novel. In other words it is indeed an outline, an outline for a work that it still shadowy in the writer’s mind. Cusk interviews her potential characters and lets them tell her emotionally pivotal stories about themselves. She makes no other dramatic demands of them. They become like a Greek chorus of voices without a play.

A writer, unnamed until the penultimate chapter, travels to Athens to host a
Julie Ehlers
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
In Outline, a writer named Faye (perhaps not unlike Rachel Cusk herself) travels to Athens for a few days to lead a writing workshop. Along the way, she engages in conversations with several people--her seatmate on the plane, other teachers and students in the workshop, friends she meets up with, friends those friends have brought along, et cetera. Sometimes Faye listens to these people without comment, sometimes she challenges them, sometimes she reveals something about herself. That's all. The ...more
While I'm reading a book, I'm often aware that my perception of time gets a little warped because story time can run much faster than the time it takes to read it. This imbalance can leave me a bit disoriented when I lay the book down and adjust to the fact that it's still the same day as when I began reading though years may have gone by for the characters among whom I've spent the last hour or two.

While reading this book on the other hand, real time passed much faster than story time. And sto
Elyse Walters
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The protagonist is a British novelist, who goes to Greece for one week, to teach creative writing. She, *Faye*, is divorced, and has 2 sons who stayed back in London.
That’s about all we know of her for awhile. Actually we never learned her name until late in the book. We are slowly piecing together stories about Faye.

The uniqueness of this novel is cerebral and gorgeous.

Before the narrator even arrives in Athens, she engages in an intriguing-intimate conversation with an older man sitting next
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 “pristine, refreshing, clear” stars.

2016 Bronze Award - Third Favorite Read (Tie)

I am a man that resides in the world of emotion. They are here with me always and are always acute, not in the background. Emotions often make me soar to the heavens or shiver in delight, but other times they make me flounder, weigh me down like the experience of walking in the cold snow with a hole in my boot that leaves my precious foot frigid and lonely.

I am unsure why the last paragraph came to my consciousn

Although I've read this in English I thought that the title for the Spanish translation suited the novel better then the original. Contraluz, that translates literally as 'backlighting' but whose meaning is something like 'against the light' fitted better this novel in which an English woman, who travels to Athens to teach writing to Greek pupils, leaves behind a shaded world to face her life and herself against the Aegean sun.

This novel is loaded with material. Gender is prominent: women, women
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk, 21-ce, fiction
Mellifluous with a beautifully honed thematic core. The tone nimbly alternates between black despair and forlornness and subtle humor. If E.M. Forster excelled at intrusive narrators, always commenting on events, Rachel Cusk’s narrator here might be called unintrusive for the way she hangs back and let’s others speak. One of the walking wounded herself, her damage manifests itself in a kind of unquestioning passivity. She’s going through the motions.

The narrator is an unnamed divorced woman, Eng
Adam Dalva
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Staggeringly unique in its simplicity. Essentially a series of interactions over a week-long trip to Greece where the lead is teaching a writing class: the characters are so rich, yet so contained - and the lead's character was at once the most interesting and the most invisible. I dug through the the text for information about her, frustrated and thrilled that her interlocutors (even a random stranger from an airplane) knew more about her life's story than we did.

But by the end, I somehow felt
Julie Christine
To call this a novel would seem to restrict it to a convention of style, to set up expectations of narrative rhythm and form. Outline, so aptly named, is a sketchbook of lives, charcoal drawings of souls captured in profile.

The book is series of conversations delivered with a twanging chord of tension and self-interest. Or really, it's a collection of confessions delivered to a listener who reciprocates only rarely; she is an ear, an eye, a filter; less participant than sponge.

The subject of the
Justin Evans
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
My wife used to read the TLS 'books of the year' edition and use it to choose books she wanted to get. Then, one fateful year, everyone recommended a certain book; she purchased it in expensive hardcover, read it in a day, and was completely flummoxed. The book was garbage. What to make of this?

She decided that the U.K. publishing scene is so small and (her word) incestuous that they just read the same five books and then talked about them for a week before moving on. She no longer looks to the
Joseph Burgess
Jan 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Rachel Cusk is obviously a writer of tremendous talent, and "Outline" doesn't hide her skills.

But I found this book to be lacking. The premise, on its face, is interesting: a series of conversations the narrator has with people she meets on her week in Athens that helps show the wide disparity of "outlines" and shapes of people's lives. It sounds existential and philosophical and hip and like half of all of the other novels that are coming out right now.

For the most part, the book executes its
Gumble's Yard
Like many others of my Goodreads friends, I re-read just ahead of the publication of the concluding book of the trilogy which this book commenced. My original review of this and the second volume Transit is below – on this reading I enjoyed finding quotes which summarised for me either Rachel Cusk’s underlying technique in writing the trilogy, or the choice of title for this first volume.

There was so little interface between inside and outside, so little friction

Sometimes .. the loss of transit
I read the first 66 pages before setting this aside. I didn’t dislike the writing; I even found it quite profound in places, but there’s not enough story to peg such philosophical depth on. This makes it the very opposite of unputdownable. Last year I read the first few pages of Cusk’s Aftermath, about her divorce, and found it similarly detached. In general I just think her style doesn’t connect with me. I’m unlikely to pick up another of her books.

A few lines I appreciated:

“As it happened I wa
Joachim Stoop
Oct 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Rather 4,25.

Phew, this is something else! There is some of the best writing in it, but because of the lack of story AND abundancy of stories it was a tough read. There is at the same time nothing and too much going on. It is a rather new and fresh take on storytelling (altough it reminded me of Jenny Offill, Valeria Luiselli, Miranda July and especially Ben Lerner).
It is so dense and deep that you really have to stay 100% concentrated all the time. Often, I was enjoying a certain episode, anecd
Diane Barnes
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a difficult book to review because of its strange nature. Not really a novel in terms of plot (there really isn't one), it is instead an account of conversations with others, mostly strangers, involving a recently divorced mother of two sons who has come to Athens for a few days to teach a writing course. As she recounts these conversations and their settings, a few facts from her own circumstances emerge.

This doesn't sound like much to base a novel on, but as I read, I began to realize
Nothing much really happens in Outline. A writer, Faye, goes to Athens to teach an English-language writing workshop. She befriends the man sitting next to her on the plane, who tells her of his failed marriages. The stories Faye hears - from this man, from her co-teacher, from her students and friends - make up the narrative, and in between we learn a little of her own life. So it's not terribly eventful, and there certainly isn't a plot, but the characters' conversations are fascinating, havin ...more
Roger Brunyate
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women
He was describing, in other words, what she herself was not: in everything he said about himself, she found in her own nature a corresponding negative. This anti-description, for want of a better way of putting it, had made something clear to her by a reverse kind of exposition: while he talked she began to see herself as a shape, an outline, with all the detail filled in around it while the shape itself remained blank. Yet this shape, even while its content remained unknown, gave he
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: PW 10/27/14
Shelves: read2019, ebooks, hoopla
Hardly anything happens in this book but I really enjoyed reading the conversations and insights about life and connection, and the setting is pretty great too. Some of those are marked from the Kindle version I read.

It's funny, I saw a review for this in Publishers Weekly back in 2014, and I would pick it up at the library and look at it and always decide not to read it. It was hard to understand the point. Then several reading friends with good taste loved it. Then Kudos, technically the third
The third volume of the trilogy of which Outline is first is what introduced me to Cusk. I am kind of astonished I’ve not been badgered about her constantly—she is so funny, so illuminating, so exacting. My enthusiasm for Kudos prompted GR friends to insist I read the three-books-in-one so I picked up Outline.

I’m pleased I read the third book first. It is even better than the first by orders of magnitude, though I’d feared I’d begin to see the seams if I read all three books at once. Never mind.
May 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
To live as a detection device in the middle of a busy street is a legitimate choice - and a tempting one to make. To observe the world as it leisurely unfolds without your interference means to avoid the difficulties of constant selection. If you are just a passive receiver, all bits of the ceaseless flow of information fit your narrative; there's no need to shape them in accordance with your purposes. In exchange for cohesion you get all kinds of bypassing, unfinished, often interesting stories ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I’ve been reading a lot of late-19th-century writing and something told me to take at least a short break, so I requested this from the library. While its prose is intelligent and impressive, I thought of abandoning the book early on. Eventually the structure, which is its main element, grew on me. To fully understand the meaning behind the structure (and the title), you need to read to the end.

The narrator—referenced by name once only—is a great listener, as well as a passive one. The mostl
Jan 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
Like watching paint dry without the action of having paint run down the wall. This felt like reading a languid MFA paper by the precocious pet student. Forced to read this because Paris Review in its infinite wisdom published the novel over four issues in 2013-2014. I stopped reading in the third installment.
Roman Clodia
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary - review to come tomorrow.

In Book 3 of his Metamorphoses, Ovid retells the stories of Narcissus and Echo (joined for the first time, I think, by Ovid) and it was this dual story that kept pulsing through my mind while reading Outline: issues of narcissism and self-abnegation, of mirrors and reflections, of voices and gender and appearing/disappearing bodies (the latter female) form a subtle, allusive, elusive but nagging parallel that links these
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seemed too soft for me at first, kept thinking it was pillowy, aerated, possibly thanks to the large type and space between lines and comfortable margins of the paperback I read. It's probably a 165-page double-spaced manuscript at most, formatted to 249 easily turned pages, a good idea on the part of the publisher to accelerate a reader's progress since it's not plot-driven at all and only over time does the outline of the narrator, her history and pain, become more and more apparent. At best, ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Update, 4/25/18: I'm rereading Cusk's first two volumes of her trilogy in eager anticipation of concluding it with a recently received ARC of Kudos, the final volume. Oddly enough, this time I had no such problem (as with the initial time) getting into the book - in fact I read the first 100 pages in a single sitting, and finished the entire book within a 24 hour period. I still found myself re-reading passages, but rather than seeing this as a deficiency, realized that what I was reading was so ...more
One interesting book. For the reader, I mean. In the first place, there's our narrator. She's going to Greece to teach a writing seminar, and yes, we get some of that, but there's the plane trip over, the man sitting next to her, and other folks she meets in Greece.

It takes getting used to, this interesting book. The first-person point of faceless, for the most part. Weaned on self, we humans don't know what to make of a writer slash narrator who focuses almost exclusively on others. At times, t
Nov 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Joan 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 ...more
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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 8 years old. 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

Other books in the series

Outline (3 books)
  • Transit
  • Kudos
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“As it happened, I was no longer interested in literature as a form of snobbery or even self-definition. I had no desire to prove that one book was better than another; in fact, if I read something I admired, I found myself increasingly disinclined to mention it at all. What I knew personally to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer, want to persuade anyone of anything.” 50 likes
“What Ryan had learned from this is that your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of.” 33 likes
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