word review: Compelling, beautifully observed

Melissa Hemsley holding a copy of Outline

Melissa Hemsley holding a copy of Outline

My first Rachel Cusk novel, Outline, is a beautifully told story of love, betrayal, ambition and loss and it had me captivated from the first line. Wonderfully observed and charmingly witty, Cusk's storytelling transports you to Athens in the fierce heat of summer.

It is a novel filled with conversations as the mysterious narrator, Faye, whose name we only learn towards the end of the book, engages with an eclectic variety of people while away teaching a creative writing course in Greece. From her seatmate on the plane from London to fellow teachers and students, all those she encounters want to share their stories with her, some almost as confessionals. These intersecting monologues are woven together with such skill and whilst we learn little of Faye's life, we are submerged in the vivid voices that surround her as they happily, and unhappily, talk intimately about themselves on their lives and loves and regrets.

For me, some of the most memorable scenes in the novel are the most touching and painful - the distressed call from the narrator's son in London forgetting his way to school without her, Faye's "neighbour" on the plane who talks incessantly of his life and career, his three failed marriages and estranged children. Cusk's novel can amuse and disturb in a few beautifully crafted sentences and she impressively manages to bring so many layers of storytelling together in a captivating way.

Outline is an unusual and compelling novel. Very funny at times, it is wonderfully observed. I savoured every word and look forward to reading more from Rachel Cusk.

Outline by Rachel Cusk is shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, which is announced on 3rd June. http://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/