In the wake of family collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions – personal, moral, artistic, practical – as she endeavours to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city she is made to confront aspects of living she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.
Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed Outline, and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility and the mystery of change.
In this precise, short and yet epic cycle of novels, Cusk manages to describe the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life, through a narrative near-silence that draws language towards it. She captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one’s life and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.
Transit is my first introduction to a very curious writer indeed. Rachel Cusk is one of those marmite writers; you either love her writing or you hate it , there’s not much in between it would seem. Having done a bit of research on her after reading Transit, I was shocked at the sheer negativity and, at times, callousness on the part of some of the people who have read this book and indeed Cusk’s other work.
When you read Transit, it soon becomes clear that Rachel has a unique writing style which you are either going to engage with immediately, take some time to become acquainted with, or darn right hate it from the first few pages. The reason is simple; Transit isn’t what we call your average story. It doesn’t have a beginning, middle and end as such, and there is certainly no happy ever after element. What you have in its place though is unadulterated raw prose from a writer who is an acute observer about realities and the normal everyday drudgery that we all have to face and deal with.
Transit has a female narrator, who also happens to be a writer, that seems to become involved, sometimes unwittingly, in other peoples narratives. In simple terms, nothing eventful actually happens during the course of the book – which kind of makes it hard to review in terms of story element in all honesty. The narrator, Faye, is a divorcee who moves back home to London to live with her two sons , buying a flat which is in dire need of renovation and working as a writer once again. But the lack of action merely serves to enhance Rachel’s stark and brutal observation about people and their habits in general. The narrator seems to take delight in simply sitting back and observing people in their naturalist of environments. These people seem intent on telling her their life story each time without, it seems, barely pausing for breath to ask about hers. I’m sure we all know many people like that who will happily tell you their life story if you give them the stage!
Rachel doesn’t dress people up as such, and that is what I think may irk some readers. She has a wealth of raw material at her disposable (it is often remarked how factual many of her books are in terms of her own life) and she presents every one of her characters with a remarkable power of observation.
I feel that Rachel’s books would be perfect for all writers, in particular those writers who aren’t quite established yet or who are looking for a writer whose narrative doesn’t quite fit the norm. Rachel is indeed proof that a unique and individual voice can work wonders, especially when backed up with confident, strong and daring prose.
Rachel Cusk’s writing is most definitely worth taking some time to take a look at. I would thoroughly recommend Transit, though perhaps after reading Rachel’s book before this called Outline, which is where the narrator and her journey are first introduced
This book was received for review from the wonderful people at NetGalley.
Publish date: Out now to buy.
Available in hardback, paperback and Kindle.