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The Lucky Ones by Rachel Cusk

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Rachel Cusk is a genius.  The Lucky Ones is a brilliant book.  Five chapters – each told from the perspective of a different character, yet each linked to the other chapters through the relationships of the characters within.  A modern tale which sometimes skewers our preoccupied, self-absorbed lives, and sometimes portrays them sympathetically. There were many ‘ah-hah’ moments of recognition for me in The Lucky Ones as Cusk’s insights illuminated contemporary habits and behaviour.  Her writing is to be cherished.

Here’s an example from the second chapter, wherein a group of six friends have travelled away together to ski:

   The bar was clad in pine from floor to ceiling.  It was crowded with people speaking German and French, who looked large and loudly coloured.  The claustrophobic interior seemed to erase the memory of proportion, so that Martin could no longer remember the size of anything, the mountain on which they were perched, the infinity of space and darkness above and below them, nor how far he was from his city, his house and the rooms in which he lived.
‘It’s funny how having children has made me see my own parents as much more vulnerable,’ said Lucy. ‘My sister still sees them as the enemy. I’m sure that’s because, in an important way, she hasn’t grown up.’
‘How’s Dominique doing?’ said Jane.
‘She’s fine.’
‘How’s the breastfeeding going?’
‘Fine. Great.’
‘Did you say she’s got her mother staying with her this week?’
‘That’s right.’
‘She must have really wanted to come,’ said Lucy, her face screwed up in sympathy as though watching someone in pain.
‘You’ve just had a baby,’ Josephine stated, tagging on to their conversation.
‘Yes,’ said Martin.
‘Congratulations.’ She said the word with a slow incomprehensible smile. He felt imprisoned behind the barrier, the fact, his life had become. The women were staring at him, and stupidly he rubbed his face as if there were some mark on it at which they were looking.
‘Thanks.’
‘It must be really difficult,’ said Josephine, ‘for you. You know, do I get on with my life, do I stay at home being supportive—‘
Martin looked at Thomas, who was sitting next to Christian at the other end of the table arranging matchsticks around his bottle of beer.

Martin stood and took his beer down to the other end of the table.  Josephine glanced at him as he went, and out of the corner of his eye he saw her lean over and say something to Jane.

I like this for so many reasons – the fatuous discussion about the effect of children on adults’ lives, the divide between the genders, the self-absorption of seemingly intelligent people and the consequent inability to be truly involved in others’ lives, and the alienation — from others, from reality — that all of this creates for a character like Martin, from whose perspective we see this interaction.

I’ve been reading Rachel Cusk’s books in order, beginning with Saving Agnes (1993), then The Temporary (1995), The Country Life (1997) and the non-fiction about childrearing, A Life’s Work (2001).  They’re all very different but what they do have in common is a distinctive point of view and a rock-hard, uncompromising intelligence.  Further novels are In the Fold (2005), Arlington Park (2006), for which she was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2007, and The Bradshaw Variations (2009).  Additional non-fiction is The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy (2009) and the very recent non-fiction about the break-up of her marriage, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation (2012).

Book details:
The Lucky Ones by Rachel Cusk
Harper Perennial, 2005 (originally published in the UK in 2003), 228 pages.

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