11 thoughts on “Transit – Rachel Cusk

  1. Pages 1 – 24

    “, we are only the result of how others have treated us.”

    Much thematically in common with a Kathleen Alcott story I happened to read and review this morning here. Or how the stars have treated us? Pleased to see the first use of ‘transit’ is that of planetary interaction. I was once obsessed in the 1970s with the synchronous nature of astrology: as above, so below, NOT cause-and-effect. An expression at relief in being thwarted. The woman narrator – who obliquely we already start to get to know – debates buying a house she can afford, a good one in a bad area or a bad one in a good area. Then she meets by chance an ex called Gerard, now with a daughter called Clara, married to Diane who, like him, is a Horror fan. We read his recent backstory AS IF he has told the narrator, and she us. The narrator in turn remembers the view from his flat – in an area where he is still living and whereto she is hoping buy a house – his flat having a view overlooking at some distance a woman’s prison … but also where you can see the lighted cigarettes of the prisoners at night? Words that slip in and out of their integral meeting, I guess. Losing Diane’s poodle called Trixie, thus letting her down, as a matching of his vulnerability with her vulnerability ironically leads to Gerard and Diane getting together…
    I won’t continue trying to describe the plot, in case it isn’t what others see as the plot, if a plot at all. If I lose the plot, you might think better of me, though! I’ll try to codify the transits and synchronicities, meanwhile.

  2. Pages 25 – 36

    Marriage mooted as a form of story for which a suspension of disbelief is needed. The panoply of shopfront flats in Toronto where Gerard has lived in the interim where he met Diane in a cinema queue before their coming back to his old London flat, with a view out, not in, become now a merging of tableaux as our own fiction gestalt. I should add that the narrator has two sons of her own, as now becomes clear. And Gerard’s relationship with music and his own parents making him perform, his daughter Clara now with a violin at school…the need for “paying attention not to what comes most naturally but to what you find most difficult.” Like reading this book, where difficult seems easy, easy difficult. Not Philomena Cunk, but Rachel Cusk?

  3. Page 37 – 58

    “…above the front door, where a curious feature was moulded into the white plaster, a human face. All the houses had them; each face was different,…”

    The narrator’s London house or part house she’s bought, strikingly described, is, for me, like the type of downbeat property in Doris Lessing’s ‘The Good Terrorist’ (my review) plumped right down in the middle of a posh area! Its entropically crumbling state and the nature of the neighbours downstairs represent possibly the core nightmare vision of all property fiction literature, at least in my mind, anyway, today. Frighteningly hilarious, too! Deadpan and full of the ‘calculated drift’ of the Alison MacLeod story ‘We Are Methodists’ (my review) and with a hired builder-for-renovation in the Cusk who is reminiscent of the boiler-repairer in that story, whereby an accretively conversational relationship is built up between a handyman and a woman who is employing him. Meanwhile, in this novel, I guess she’ll probably have to farm out her two sons to her ex Gerard’s flat nearby while her house is such a horrendous building site….

  4. Pages 59 – 82

    “In fact, where hair was concerned, Dale said, the fake generally seemed to be more real than the real:”

    This is the narrator’s hairdresser scene (please see also as semi-resonance my 2015 review of Anita Brookner’s ‘At the Hairdresser’s’), Dale, her hairdresser, being another ‘handyman’ in her life with a homespun philosophy and Damascene moments and he himself even has a handyman friend who is a plumber who makes sculptures from plumbing materials. A philosophy of countering FEAR and not following the herd as represented by the dead-end, line-snorting world of his other friends. Dale also has semi-adopted a boy from Scotland who makes a telling contrast with a boy customer described in this chapter. This storefront tableau, like one of those earlier Toronto ‘shopfront’ flats… with one fractured moment. A scene and interaction to relish and ponder. Factored into the accreting gestalt.

  5. Pages 83 – 104

    “All writers, Julian went on, are attention seekers: why else would be sitting up here on this stage? The fact is, he said, no one took enough notice of us when we were small and now we’re making them pay for it.”

    Making them pay for it, by writing about your parents when they originally thought your secrets were as secret as theirs! Something nasty in the woodshed, perhaps. Our lady writer as narrator (still nemonymous, as far as I can tell) is now a guest at a discussion forum at an important writing convention. These pages tell half of it so far. Including the authors (famous ones, I guess, including the narrator) who become soaking wet while getting to the marquee from the main house. There had been a shorter covered route for them, however, that they missed! The unspoken thoughts — inferred by us around their spoken admissions of attention seeking, the shed where one of them was made to live as a child, a pet cat tussling with a bird, and more — tell us more about the first two male writers to speak, than what they actually speak about, or, probably, vice versa! Like reading this book, where difficult seems easy, easy difficult. The same with this review, perhaps, with more left unsaid than what is said in it. If sometimes mis-said!

  6. Pages 104 – 127

    “It was amusing, if faintly sad, to see people call disgusting the things they themselves did on a daily basis.”

    …in retributive texts or books generally. This is the second half of the literary festival, more than just a writers convention, our narrator in her wet shoes choosing a part of her book to read aloud, a part of the text known only by us as another character’s spoken reaction to it, unless the part read aloud was this very reaction’s account by this author (as that other author) of it? The whole chapter is like travel literature, where we are described the genius-loci of the other two writers’ writerly methods and landmark emotions, by dint of personal fables (inferred from what we infer they said, a bit like that earlier inference about Gerard’s backstory that we infer he told the narrator), fables of cat and bird fighting one-sidedly, and of a childhood visit to a petting zoo. Later, the Chair’s leading foot! I felt the book was Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing its own text. Humiliation, as well as fear. I really believed in these characters. And inferences of inferences by others. Transits of transits. And more calculated drift.

    “It was good in a way, to be reminded of the fundamental anonymity of the writing process, the fact that each reader came to your book a stranger who had to be persuaded to stay.”

  7. Pages 128 – 151

    “They were more like thoughts, thoughts in someone else’s head that she could see.”

    The story of this book? Is Cusk pronounced as the Tusk in Donald Tusk or an elephant’s? Here those thoughts are paintings. Now, the narrator is home again amid builder’s dustsheets, her sons farmed out, unpleasant food smells coming from the neighbours downstairs, and today she is sitting with a student called Jane whom, as a famous author, the narrator seems to be mentoring. Jane takes professional photos of arguably less unpleasant food (Waitrose brochure being Jane’s latest) and she has 300,000 words of notes about a painter of the sea….for her book. The connections derived are fascinating, vis à vis the narrator. Thoughts for this book as if this book is a person thinking. About identity, doppelgängers as people who you think are repeats of you, Gertrude Stein’s sofa, and again (to echo that of the narrator with the Chair) the tentative mind games of predatory but sometime well-intentioned picking up for sex….here for Jane built up over a meal, with slowly withdrawing chaperone. We are gradually being made prisoner, likewise, of this artist’s vision, this book. A new capacity for selfishness or even self-value, as a result? Becoming paradoxically more real via the process of reading?

  8. Pages 152 – 175

    “Today the grey tint of fatigue lay just beneath her made-up skin;”

    The narrator’s friend Amanda, whose backstory makes me think that existence is one long building site, renovation and capitalisation, renovation again, each a staging post, including the staging post of death, staging posts in the gestalt of Liferature (sic). The structure that is each of us, in each other’s building site. Meanwhile, the narrator talks Albionglish with the Albanian labourer-employee of her builder, make-up crusts of dust or plaster, as she tries to pacify those downstairs about the noise of ripping out the floor for the future benefit of a more sound-proofed version. Is death sound-proofed, I wonder? I feel that life is indeed becoming “the butt of some immense practical joke.” Ligottian like all Liferature. Some very funny deadpan wisdom and aborted decisions and moments of being in denial, here in this chapter. The book of Liferature. And Translit.

    “‘Whatever you do,’ she said, ‘don’t have a relationship with your builder.’”

    “I said that perhaps none of us could ever know what was true and what wasn’t. And no examination of events, even long afterwards, was entirely stable.”

  9. Pages 176 – 207

    “It was the day the astrologer’s report had said would be of particular significance in the coming phase of transit.”

    Transit as generic, rather than ‘a’ or ‘the’ particular transitory planetary connection with another planetary connection….whichever the case, it was and it is. Was for fey Faye (I now believe this to be the narrator’s name) and is for the reader. She talks with an unpolished Polish labourer, but polished enough for him to pick up in her room a Polish translation of one of Faye’s book’s as if she was the freehold author with leasehold characters now passing it over to a different freeholder, in tune with the heavy-duty rebuilding tantamount of this her house today, this structure of Liferature. The Polish man wanted to be an architect. But forgot to build any walls so they could see him shitting? A bit like building a novel? We transit now in Faye’s thoughts to the writing-fiction class she runs and the moving pareidoliac cloudscape outside the window and someone leasehold in the class trying to freehold her lesson, and the man who talks of special dogs who act like music….with “neediness or sheer ennui”, almost human as a dog, and then the gestalt real-time triangulation of thematic coordinates: “…the ultimate fulfilment of conscious being lay not in solitude but in a shared state so intricate and cooperative it might almost be said to represent the entwining of two selves.” Then the evil “trolls” downstairs who need their hate of Faye to be further incited by the builder so that he could get on more freely with the noisy work as her fictional ‘victim’. Life as an act of reading, just to find out what happens next. The art of passivity. The literature of adoption. Faye’s later lunch with the man who once regretted not helping her when her car alarm went off. As a real-time reviewer I line up my tools in my head methodically so that I know where each one is and what it does. But as I get older they begin to get muddled. But I am clear there are significant transits that will haunt me in this chapter, transits that make one transit towards the staging post of final transit that is never studied in hindsight. The hawk or whatever bird of prey I try to follow in the sky wheeling closer to my muzzle.

  10. Pages 208 – 260

    “She read so many books, she said, that they tended to blur together in her mind.”

    This last chapter is a discrete, if indiscreet, novella as coda to this book’s symphony of reported thoughts as real-time narration. Each man ray and woman ray broadcasting their current versions of self, ambushed as they are in this dinner party by children, children older and younger, with their whims and tantrums. Baby chickens on their plates, not cheese sandwiches, causing all sorts of childish mayhem and tears. Lawrence (a food fascist), the friend Faye is visiting via a difficult drive in the dark of precipitous roads, has invited her here to meet his new partner Eloise with whom he has betrayed his wife who is also a friend of Faye’s. The guests and children are a nightmare to read about; they even manhandle their mothers, and I have a sense of deja vu about them. At least gestalt real-time reviewing fiction books helps to stop them blurring together, but this same process incites more and more deja vu, real or fake deja vu. Deja Faye even has a phone call in this far flung place from her own two sons with their own tantrums thus transmitted into this remarkable dinner party. These characters are so beautifully done, I even wonder if this final chapter is not the raison d’etre of the novel itself, the rest being a preamble of jerry-building, jury-rigging and multi-transiting to this final single superseding transit. It is all so cinematic, I wonder if I have seen it in the cinema. Afraid to go to see the film of it, but I know it is something I must eventually do see on the big screen. Faye’s sons, one knocking the other unconscious, a sort of distant marriage-breaker. I am like a fold in the curtain; I try to unfold to see one of the children’s past birthday cakes: “…a beautiful tiered structure of meringue and berries and fresh cream, the best of them all.” A building to die for. Yet, I may end up eating the cheese sandwich instead. Then to decide which is this book: that cake or that sandwich? The sadness of Tiffy or Taffy? Opaque fog pressed to the window or the earlier pareidoliac cloudscape? I am glad my son found this Cusk book for me. Fate is always right. As the book itself claims, somewhere in this final chapter. Preternatural.


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