December 29th, 2017

book talk // outline.

I spoke too soon in composing my five favorite books of 2017 post — I even considered not admitting I finished this particular book in 2017, but it seemed a shame not to acknowledge what was, truly, a year-end gem.

Outline is, in a word, a gift. It’s art; beautifully constructed, not a sentence wasted or word misplaced. The blurb describes Outline as, “a novel in ten conversations” — and that’s precisely what it is. But, it’s also quite a lot more.

A British author travels to Athens to teach a course on writing and, beginning with her seat neighbor on the plane, proceeds to have a series of encounters that she meticulously records. The conversations are intimate, introspective and mostly deal with failed relationships, failed attempts at parenthood, and an absence of romantic love. The tone throughout could be described as nihilistic, as the author herself is going through a divorce and traveling without her own children, she also mentions seeking a separation from traditional relationships. Perhaps the conversations themselves also seem too raw, too personal, but, oftentimes, with a few pointed queries, people (strangers, even) will reveal quite a lot about themselves without much prompting. I was reminded of Humans of New York and how a particular person can have a talent in allowing strangers to open up. And the author, in turn, mines those stories for important lessons.

This elliptical non-story deals with concepts regarding how we view ourselves, also how others view us, and how those two ideas may conflict. She notes that people present one aspect of themselves and allow an entire identity to be based on a single attribute, only to later reveal their true nature and, in turn, distort the carefully curated false reality. The enormous social currency that goes into creating an alluring outward appearance made me think multiple times about social media, although it’s never once mentioned in the novel.

The novel meanders. It’s ponderous in a way I think only British authors can be. The expansion of one moment. The narrator is vague, distant, and we only learn her name in the final chapter — I believe this is intentional, as she is only meant to be an “outline,” a sieve for the stories of others. It made me think about my own observations and interactions with the world, that I too am an observer and even the simplest moments can teach us a lesson.

Overall Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: those who enjoy small, intimate moments or the most literary of literary fiction