The novelists' hyperbole is unintentionally funnyby Zoe Apostolides / November 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
Few contemporary novelists are as divisive as Rachel Cusk, and yet her recently completed Outline trilogy garnered a deservedly positive critical response. The essays in this collection, though, are a disappointment. Coventryis split into three categories: the first contains reflections on motherhood, domesticity and creativity; the second and third provide broader comment on novelists.
The analyses of DH Lawrence, Edith Wharton and Kazuo Ishiguro seem rushed; there is a convoluted and ultimately unsatisfying piece about the life of Francis of Assisi and Cusk’s offerings on female authors like Natalia Ginzburg and Françoise Sagan appear to say a great deal while revealing nothing much at all.
The title essay focuses on the silent treatment Cusk often experiences at the hands of her parents. It begins with promise, but digresses into inconsequential lamentations that she has never seen “Stanley Spencer’s paintings in the chapel at Burghclere in Hampshire” or “visited Henry Moore’s house in Much Hadham.”
Many of Cusk’s ideas—in “On Rudeness,” for example, especially in the wake of political mud-slinging over Brexit—are exciting and truthful. Too often, though, they are so heavily cloaked in allegory and metaphor that the punches fail to land—in the same essay there is a confusing jumble of reflections on Jesus’s politeness at his execution, and Sophocles’ Philoctetes.
The hyperbole is unintentionally funny. It is hard to take much else seriously in “Making Home,” when it opens with Cusk’s being “driven to what appeared to be the brink of mental and physical collapse by… the complete remodelling of our London flat.”
She vows to become “more polite,” and yet seems most bent on using her writing as an opportunity to skewer friends and family, often using their physical appearance, and revelling in a defensive misanthropy that detracts from anything of worth the essays might offer.
Coventry by Rachel Cusk (Faber & Faber, £14.99)