Updated: Sep 22, 2022
By Rachel Cusk
I’m a newcomer to the autofiction (fictionalized autobiography) genre, so read Outline, by Rachel Cusk, with curiosity. The protagonist, Faye—an English teacher on short-term assignment in Greece--is elusive, skirting the edges of the story. Each chapter centers on individual characters she meets. A Greek interested in romance, a fellow teacher named Ryan, neighbor Celia, and more. Gradually, through these characters’ stories, bits of Faye’s life is revealed, and the reader is able to piece together her marriage, her separation, her career and kids. It was an interesting, subtle style of revealing autobiography through other people.
The challenge, for me, of this genre was that it was too detached. I found myself getting a little impatient that the author kept her subject so close to her chest. Despite the personal clash I felt with this style of writing, I must acknowledge that Cusk’s observations about human nature are refreshing. For example, “But everything falls away, try as you might to stop it. And for whatever returns to you, be grateful.” And, “People are least aware of power when demonstrating their own power over them [others].” The book was worth reading just to pluck these gems out.