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Fiction follows life: Rachel Cusk. © Katherine Rose / Guardian / eyevine

Rachel Cusk’s imitation game

Of all the novelists writing autofictional narratives, Cusk is the most original and interesting

By Miranda France   July 2021

In her 2012 memoir Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation, Rachel Cusk pinpointed a dilemma familiar to all warring couples. Her idea about why the marriage failed didn’t match her husband’s. “My husband believed that I had treated him monstrously… It was his story, and lately I have come to hate stories.”

That revelation about storytelling marked a turning point for Cusk as a writer, as well as a wife. Here was a successful, prize-winning novelist questioning the point of fiction. It no longer made sense, Cusk said, “making up John and Jane and having them do things together”—worse, it was embarrassing. She wasn’t alone in feeling this discomfort, which has fuelled the rise of “autofiction”—novels based on what actually happened to the author—by writers like Karl Ove Knausgård and Sheila Heti. Cusk’s response has been the most interesting, though, and her trilogy—Outline (2014), Transit (2016) and Kudos (2018)—represents…

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