Natural Phenomenon of the Day

Polar lights in Ukraine tonight:

There’s still time to enjoy nature this weekend.

Book Notes: Outline by Rachel Cusk

There was a German writer, W.G.Sebald who created his own style of writing, and it’s been very influential. There are writers in pretty much every European country who write Sebaldian prose. In Spain, it’s Javier Marías, Antonio Muñoz Molina, and to a lesser extent Kirmen Uribe. I heard that Olga Tokarczuk and Karl Ove Knausgaard write in that style, although I haven’t read them myself.

In these books, there isn’t much of a plot and very little happens. There’s a ghostly narrator who meets people, listens to their stories, and ponders the complexity of human relationships. It’s all about different shades of emotions. The writing is usually beautiful. The mood is calm and melancholy. Very often, the problem that the ghostly narrator half-heartedly struggles with is divorce. Sometimes, it’s a parent’s death.

This is how Rachel Cusk writes. I like her more than Javier Marías because she’s less pretentious. Plus, I never read a novel in this style by a female author. This is usually a very male kind of writing, so it was interesting to see how a woman would handle it.

What’s interesting is that Sebald’s shattered, directionless, plotless writing was a response to the horror of WWII. He belonged to a generation of Germans who had lost the plot, so to speak, and had no idea how to get over the devastation and the guilt. He wrote like a shell-shocked person because he was one.

So when Uribe, Muñoz Molina or Cusk apply this writing style to the descriptions of problem-free existences of people who hop around the world on transcontinental flights out of boredom, it’s hard to figure out why they decide to drown in all this minutiae. It’s cute, often delicious, beautifully described minutiae but there’s a limit on how many books of this kind one can ingest. If you never read any, I definitely recommend getting familiar with the genre through Cusk. If you read them before, I’m not sure what one more would do for you. These books are extremely interchangeable. One could have easily convinced me that a page from Cusk’s Outline was a translation of Javier Marías’s novel.

Why so many writers choose to write these identical books I wouldn’t be able to say. They are so similar, even down to small details. Enjoyable, though. They are definitely enjoyable.