Books on GIF #70 — 'Transit' by Rachel Cusk


This Sunday's book is 'Transit' by Rachel Cusk.

This is one of the most beautiful and depressing novels I've ever read. I may never recover. I'm like: 
I picked this book up the moment I saw it at Politics & Prose bookstore in D.C. because I loved Cusk's previous work, 'Outline,' whichI reviewed back in August 2016. 'Outline' was depressing and beautiful, too, and when I looked back at my review, I found I had used a similar GIF to describe it: 
While writing this review, several timesI've had to step away from my computer to lie down, hug the cat, eat something or fix a cup of tea before I could proceed. I've now brewed my third cup, this one infused with lavender, and I hope it will keep me going until I'm finished. 'Transit' is a sequel to 'Outline,' and it continues the story of Faye, a writer who has moved back to London with her two sons after a divorce. Like the last book, the chapters unfold as a series of conversations narrated by Faye that include an ex boyfriend, the contractor who renovates her apartment, writers who join her on a panel discussion, a date and guests at a dinner party, among others. Faye and these characters are, as Thoreau would put it, living 'lives of quiet desperation.' They're all at least 40 and grappling with the malaise of middle age that includes coping with children, realizing you're not young anymore, searching still for love, resenting a spouse, questioning your life choices or going through a divorce. This book captures so well the ennui and existential dread of life's third act that it felt like my Facebook timeline had come alive. Just today, in fact, a guy my age who I haven't seen in years was there lamenting how hard it is to date, and how the woman who politely rejected him on a dating site is just as terrible as the two women prior who stood him up at restaurants. If the universe had only told him how sad life would turn out, he said, it could have saved him a lot of time and energy. Indeed, life after 40 often feels like: 
The central metaphor of the book is Faye's apartment, which for much of the story is under renovation with exposed beams and gutted floors. The characters are exposed and gutted as well through their conversations with Faye, who's a subtle inquisitor and armchair therapist. They open up to her about their deepest existential fears, troubled pasts and bad marriages. My favorite of these is when she asks one of her writing students about why he loves his dog so much. He initially says it's because the dog is beautiful, but she presses him. He then describes how the dog's breed, the Saluki, are used to hunt in pairs along with a falcon. One dog watches the falcon while the other watches the prey, and doing this requires a deep connection and understanding between the animals. So what the man really loved about his dog was its ability to form deep and meaningful connections to a counterpart, something which all us yearn for. See, this book's gonna make you go: 
Faye rarely discusses herself directly. We learn about her and her internal struggles to build a new life mostly through glimpses in her narration. She feels relief, for example, at the end of a successful date as opposed to, say, love or desire. I interpreted that reaction to mean that she felt hope for the future, that she could one day find love again and not be alone. Or maybe it was because the date was a nice guy and not a jerk, like another character was. Either way, it's brilliant storytelling, both in construction and in writing. Cusk's style is clear, evocative and smooth. You breeze right through it like a hand along a bannister. Along the way are profound insights into love, art and life. And the descriptions! One I loved is where a woman's younger-than-her-age appearance was said to be like a fold in a curtain that's kept away from the sun and hasn't faded. I was like: 
'Transit,' ultimately, is not a downer. At the end, Faye makes a life-affirming decision that I won't reveal here, but it left me in a better mood. The book reminds us that while life can be soul-killing, it also has moments of kindness and grace that can restore us. Like any renovation, periods of destruction are often followed by renewal. And we are made stronger having done the repairs. You should all read this book. 

My rating: 

'Transit' by Rachel Cusk was published by Picador in 2018. 260 pages. 

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What's next? Books on GIF will review 'Pachinko' by Min Jin Lee, 'Swing Time' by Zadie Smith and 'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck, among others, in the coming weeks.

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* Thanks especially to Donna for copy editing this review!