June 20th, 2018

book talk // kudos.

When I closed the cover to Kudos, I also reached the end of Rachel Cusk’s creative trilogy — or, perhaps to call it a trilogy is misleading, really it’s a reinvention of the form itself. The books flow together into one continuing conversation; they are one. Cusk herself has referred to this as a “project” and, to me, that makes sense. It’s something else entirely, though I don’t presume to know what.

Kudos finds Faye back on a plane, tied to another male seatmate, practicing her intrinsic skill for listening. The narrative takes the reader through a book panel, interviews, and a literary festival. However, the main theme seems to be, in this iteration, suffering. Suffering of the feminine, suffering of the sensitive mind, suffering as an opportunity.

A writer, at the festival, states: “I am one of those people who believes that without suffering there can be no art, she said, and I have no doubt that my love of literature in particular stems from the desire to be confirmed in that belief.”

I wonder if that’s not true of all of us. We believe that in order for great literature to exist, first the soul must be tortured. And, in turn, we take pleasure in devouring the product of a tortured soul, seeking to find proof that all of life is suffering.

Faye also observes: “Suffering had always appeared to me as an opportunity, I said, and I wasn’t sure I would ever discover whether this was true and if so why it was, because so far I had failed to understand what it might be an opportunity for. All I knew was that it carried a kind of honour, if you survived it…”

The key to this record of Faye’s travels is that there is always one more conversation. Always one more person who wants to share their story, perhaps after the bottle of wine has been sufficiently depleted. She is a conduit, a sieve, for other people’s thoughts and observations. She contributes a bit more in this book, and she never outright disagrees with people, instead she often poses her disagreement as a question (“I wonder if that’s true?” — very teacher-like). But still, she is dissociated and separate.

The other thread that wove through this narrative is that of the feminine. Faye is a woman, married again, with two children; she is wife, mother, and also herself. However, she lets men greedily pour their needs into her and then she in turn transcribes them. In a sense, despite their obvious need to be heard, she is the one who has the final word.

The novel ends with a perfect scene — one that I would never have described as perfect in any other context — a man urinating into the ocean as she is swimming nearby. “He looked at me with black eyes full of malevolent delight while the golden jet poured unceasingly forth from him until it seemed impossible that he could contain any more. The water bore me up, heaving, as if I lay on the breast of some sighing creature while the man emptied himself into its depths. I looked into his cruel, merry eyes and I waited for him to stop.”

As with suffering, she must simply push through and wait it out. But she is borne up, unpolluted by his transgression. She will endure. And thus, the novel left me feeling both utterly hopeless and foolishly hopeful.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended for: people who liked Outline or novels that aren’t really novels in trilogies that aren’t really trilogies.

(Read my review of Outline & review of Transit)