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A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,090 ratings  ·  161 reviews
The experience of motherhood is an experience in contradiction. It is commonplace and it is impossible to imagine. It is prosaic and it is mysterious. It is at once banal, bizarre, compelling, tedious, comic, and catastrophic. To become a mother is to become the chief actor in a drama of human existence to which no one turns up. It is the process by which an ordinary life ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 1st 2003 by St. Martins Press-3PL (first published 2002)
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3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,090 ratings  ·  161 reviews

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This work was initially published in 2002, and fifteen years later we learn that it had a rocky reception. Womenkind may indeed be split into two irreconcilable halves because I have no idea what could incense people about this book: I laughed through it, and when I wasn’t laughing, I was marking her passages to relate later, so clearly did they capture the ambiguity we feel between love and distress at being so loved and/or needed ourselves.

This memoir of the circumstance surrounding the conce
Michelle Cristiani
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs
Since becoming a mother I have read countless memoirs of motherhood. Some are funny, some are literary, some are candid. Pretty much all of them are trite. I have read some that I loved, but never one I could relate to closely. This, finally, is that book.

Rachel Cusk explains in her introduction that they moved out of London and her husband took care of their children while she wrote this book. To her and her husband I say, every minute of that time was worth this product. Cusk manages to descr
Ginny Pennekamp
Aug 10, 2012 rated it liked it
The truth is, it's rough having a baby. I love him -- but regardless of how I love him, and no matter how much people say your love for him will make it so you love doing laundry, changing dirty diapers and pacing the floor at night -- I HATE doing laundry, changing dirty diapers and pacing the floor at night. I hate that I do those things 90% of the time I'm awake, and gone gone gone are my moments to sleep or to read or to enjoy television or eat dinner without someone screaming and putting th ...more
Joachim Stoop
Sep 09, 2015 rated it liked it
A well written drag of a book. I know I'm no woman, nor am I to be a mother, but I read this in two days that felt like nine months ;-)

Ok, that's a bit harsh. I didn't give it 3 stars for nothing. I did like some of the phrasing, but in general it was too grotesque, too claustrophobic, too off putting.

''Increasingly, motherhood comes to seem to me not a condition but a job, the work of certain periods, which begin and end and outside of which I am free. My daughter is more and more a part of thi
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
Recently a much younger friend had a baby and—not having had any luck myself—I decided to read Rachel Cusk’s memoir to find out what that “apparently normal and yet entirely unintelligible experience” might be like. From the first page of the Introduction I was hooked: Cusk’s is an acutely observed account of her passage through pregnancy, childbirth, and the first year of her daughter’s life.

Cusk’s ability to find words to express her experiences is impressive:
One evening, sitting outside in t
Jayne Charles
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
There are so many 'celebrity baby books' out there, none of which I would touch with a barge pole, with their soft-focus vomit-inducing coochie-coochie-coo. I don't even fancy those matey ones that slap their thighs, wink and hoot 'What am I like....' whilst recounting a string of sanitised 'parenting fail' moments. This is different. This one looks you in the eye with a dangerously frank expression and says 'no, I really am crap at parenting'.

Clearly pregnancy did not addle Ms Cusk's brain. I w
Feb 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is the most beautiful and the most honest book about pregnancy and motherhood that I have read. At nearly every pass I found myself saying, "Yes, exactly, that's it precisely."

Cusk describes the condition and the character of motherhood with candor and vision and clarity; it's like reading some long-forgotten Virginia Woolf novel, with every predicament of motherhood more carefully revealed than you would have thought possible, and those moments presented with such immediacy and such a sen
Nov 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
At times I really liked the writing in this book, but on the whole, I much prefer Cusk's fiction. There's an unrelenting whininess to the book, in spite of the fantastic sentences. My memories of pregnancy and the first year with both of my sons are so utterly different from Cusk's. Even her deep sense of connection with her new daughter feels overwrought, well actually, it, too, feels downright whiny. I kept reading because the sentences truly are dazzling. Here's an example: "Feeding, I tell t ...more
Oct 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, non-fiction
This book was my first glimpse into the fact that we as mothers can be honest with one another about how HARD it is to be someone's mom. Many books out there are guilt inducing and unrealistic about motherhood. After I read Cusk's book, I tried to be more honest with myself and my friends about my experiences: I asked for help when I needed it, I admitted it when I was having a horrible day with the kids, I allowed myself to grieve over everything I had lost for those years when the kids took up ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Drawn by its subversive sepia cover, I plucked this memoir off a bookstore shelf during pregnancy because frankly, all the pink books with pictures of smiling mothers and babies were enough to provoke the baby blues before even giving birth! Cusk’s two young daughters are rolled into one anonymous being to protect their privacy in the book, in which Cusk recounts personal anecdotes of new motherhood in glorious detail.

Rachel Cusk’s story lived up to its cover promise of being ‘as compulsive as a
Nov 28, 2009 rated it liked it
I'm not sure how I feel about this book.

Rachel Cusk writes beautifully and her viewpoint is one I generally agree with. I also have a lot of sympathy for her, it seems like she went through some major post-partum depression. I was so sure I would I have post-partum depression after my I had my son, but for some reason I didn't (perhaps just the joy of not being pregnant?). This book reminds me how important it is for people to have access to mental health services and screening during this time,
Lee Kofman
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is such a quirky memoir. I’m starting to think maybe it’s an English thing, to be terribly quirky, but then every good English writer I read reinvents quirkiness anew (and still I can sense some shared sensibility amongst them). My own experience of motherhood is very different from that of Cusk, but I didn’t read this book to get validation for my own life or not even so much to think more about motherhood. This book looks so strangely at the familiar that it could have been written about ...more
Jen Crichton
Jun 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I remember my children's babyhoods clearly and with sentiment but not great sentimentality. I found my first child's babyhood so difficult that I had my next child 18 months later in order to get all the baby stuff over and done with in one fell swoop. Rachel Cusk writes beautifully and precisely but presents the most unrelentingly negative vision of motherhood I have ever read. It's as though all my difficult moments as a mother of babies were condensed into two hundred pages with none of the m ...more
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
“To be a mother I must leave the telephone unanswered, work undone, arrangements unmet. To be myself I must let the baby cry, must forestall her hunger or leave her for evenings out, must forget her in order to think about other things. To succeed in being one means to fail at being the other.”

A deeply melancholy and yet beautifully written account of early motherhood. Cusk hates being a mother and fails to find anything joyful or redemptive in the vocation. There is an element of bravery to the
May 01, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A lot of her language feels needlessly complicated. I found some of her experience reassuring, but mostly found it hard to sympathise with her. Thought the introduction was the best bit of the book.
Simone Kern
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books I know I will be re-reading for the rest of my life (certainly for the rest of this year). I wish I could give it 6 stars. Every mom should read this book and find solidarity and humor and words to describe the total upheaval of becoming a mother.
Jane Branson
Jul 04, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read to the end of this book to see if the author became any less irritating. She did not.
Klaudyna Maciąg
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
Podobno swego czasu ta książka wywołała takie kontrowersje, że aż sugerowano odebranie autorce dzieci. Czytam, czytam i żadnej kontrowersji nie widzę. Jest to bardzo szczery zapis wrażeń z pierwszych miesięcy macierzyńskiego życia i bliżej mi do niego niż do tych wszystkich przelukrowanych opowiastek o cudzie macierzyństwa.

Nie daję jej jednak wysokiej oceny, bo momentami jest nudna. Wiem, że ludzie myślą, że ich życie jest szalenie interesujące, ale tyle tu ciągnących się smętów, że aż miałam oc
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book is a brick-hitting revelation to the (somewhat vapid) genres of 'mommy memoir,' and 'motherhood.' Cusk writes with the precision of a surgeon; her narrative is stripped to a most essential task: the disclosure of the often hidden battle to assimilate motherhood into one's identity - full stop. some find her too harsh. if she is, it is by virtue of honesty and utter disregard for conventional models of femininity and parenthood.
Cusk gives me hope for all of our daughters. Thanks for wr
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
It is a strange pleasure, in the midst of a difficult and emotionally intense process, to read about the experiences of someone else who seemed to have an even more arduous time of it. Cusk's account of motherhood is a bit grim -- anxiety, frustration, a kind of wraith-like existence. She does not rush to assure you that everything is great and rewarding and TOTALLY WORTH IT. She does not gush over the gorgeousness and perfection of her baby. She dwells in the terrors of a self that is both doub ...more
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dobrze bylo poczytac tez o ciemnej stronie macierzynstwa i odnalezc w slowach autorki tez kilka wlasnych mysli. Nie rozumiem, dlaczego ta ksiazka spotkala sie z taka szeroka krytyka. Mysle, ze kazda matka ma "slabe" dni, kiedy dziecko nie jest tylko i wylacznie wata cukrowa do calowania, kiedy trzeba przekroczyc siebie i zaakceptowac z trudem jeszcze jeden placz. Dni, kiedy zastanawia sie, co ja omija, kiedy siedzi przy dziesiatym karmieniu...Przelanie tych czarnych mysli na papier moze spotegow ...more
Artnoose McMoose
May 12, 2012 rated it liked it
I think this is the last of the new-mother memoirs I'm going to read. This is the headiest of the ones that I've read. I had lots of quotes I wanted to write down, but of course, I'm past the days of being able to have a pen and paper near me.

It's also of course the story of an upper middle class married woman bemoaning the trials of new motherhood, of how it negated her identity.

I liked the conversation between her and a friend who had a baby the same age as hers. They were talking about all t
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A memoir of Cusk's pregnancy and the early years of her life as a mother, her writing is riveting, raw, and unforgettable. Her way of putting her thoughts and experiences into the words she chooses is so unexpected, and delightful. Recommended for Ferrante fans, different topics but a similar sense of voice and style. Definitely picking up her trilogy.
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Good in terms of giving a different perspective on mothering/ motherhood but not after too long I tired of the narrative. Whilst I open to blowing open and critiquing the 'super woman/ mother' idea, I found this book too negative to get me though the early years of child rearing. This may be an unfair review as I did not finish the book.
TaraShea Nesbit
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An astute and somewhat ascerbic account of early motherhood as navigated by one who has developed their own previous identity and grapples both with how to live in that simultaneous pull of Before Child and Most Love Ever. Reviews I read before reading this book were mixed and in my view, far too negative.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was having a bad week of parenting, a very bad week indeed. Rachel Cusk got me; from her sentiments on breastfeeding, lack of sleep, the push and pull of mothering, I felt heard and sorted. I am grateful for this book, and grateful that I happened upon at the very right moment.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-read-have
Rachel Cusk is a beautiful writer. Here, she writes candidly about her experience with becoming a mother and acknowledges that she often doesn’t recognize herself - her identity has shifted. Her words are lovely and raw and honest and so appreciated.
Susan Valentine
Jul 14, 2017 rated it liked it
A 3.5 would be more accurate. Cusk is an excellent writer, and I appreciate her prose style, intelligence, and refreshing candour. But I didn't connect that strongly with her work, as if it kept me somehow at a distance. I was not compelled and even found it tiring at times.
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Best book about motherhood I’ve read yet. Also the most devastating. Good birth control.
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
As a child I recall thinking, as Cusk did, that I didn't have any say in whether or not I would eventually have children. It just seemed like it was something that happened to everyone. The realisation, around 9 or 10, that one could choose to abstain came as a great relief to me.

I feared and continue to fear the physical process, the personal and financial costs, the risk of screwing up the life of another person who never asked to be there in the first place. Loving my imaginary child and bein
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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
“But the issue of children and who looks after them has become, in my view, profoundly political, and so it would be a contradiction to write a book about motherhood without explaining to some degree how I found the time to write it. For the first six months of Albertine’s life I looked after her at home while my partner continued to work. This experience forcefully revealed to me something to which I had never given much thought: the fact that after a child is born the lives of its mother and father diverge, so that where before they were living in a state of some equality, now they exist in a sort of feudal relation to each other. A day spent at home caring for a child could not be more different from a day spent working in an office. Whatever their relative merits, they are days spent on opposite sides of the world.” 0 likes
“My daughter emanates unprocessed human need where the world is at its most civilised;” 0 likes
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