PanThe London Review of BooksThe real mistake, seen so often in travel writing, is to set foot on the promontory of an unfamiliar country, let a photogenic wave crash over you, and present yourself as the discoverer. O’Brien hasn’t done that here. Instead, some texture is absent from the Girl’s inner monologue, from the self-mythology that chants in the background of experience. There is a thinness, as if every third word is missing, which does odd things to her patented rich rhythms. While this could be waved away as the language of shock, trauma, being prised apart by unknown hands, it isn’t quite – and anyway we can’t know, since we don’t hear the voice of the Girl before she has been kidnapped. It is more the language of first encounter. If the Girl’s interior is a forest, neither do the trees there have names. Landscapes breathe out a book’s oxygen, and we turn a little blue here ... Survival instinct alone drives the Girl. Her life bites at her heels, and not a single choice she makes seems to spring from a distinct personality – and when that’s true, you don’t have a novel, you have a nature documentary, where a soothing voice narrates the fate of far-off prey ... a distrust enters into the reading. Would Maryam really describe one beautiful girl’s braids as snakelike, and another’s as being little serpents? ... in this context she does not know, so the narrative, instead of riding alongside like a horse or walking arm in arm with the main character, is a room lit by a single bare bulb, where the author is asking the Girl questions. Like this, was it like this, would it be like this? She does not have enough time with her; there are thousands of questions she will not get to ask.
PositiveLondon Review of Books\"... a little uncut ruby of a memoir ...The lack of variety is puzzling (why not a few of her letters to Lydia Davis, say?) and the letters are not interesting in themselves, but they are worth reading to hear how much more herself she is in the stories ... The more extended memories offered in Welcome Home delight and illuminate, either despite or because of the fact that nearly every line contains something we’ve seen before ... Why doesn’t it read as autofiction, quite? To read Welcome Home after Evening in Paradise after A Manual for Cleaning Women is to experience Berlin as a romanesco, or the hall of mirrors scene in The Lady from Shanghai. She approaches the same material in so many different ways, in so many different stories, that you see the art in action.\
PositiveLondon Review of Books\"Evening in Paradise, as good as it is, feels vaguer at the edges than A Manual for Cleaning Women, which clapped closed. It suffers from a relative lack of hospital stories, which often emerge as her best, where her ever present sensuality inverts into an almost unbearable physical compassion. There’s nothing in this collection like ‘My Jockey’, but then what are we, kings? How often does a ‘My Jockey’ come along? Is there any limit to our entitlement?\
RaveThe London Review of Books\"In unhappier compositions her metaphors pile up and sit at angles like jigsaw pieces, but in the Outline trilogy they are masterfully in hand. There is urgency, a wish to avoid unnecessary detours, for we have someplace to be ... Her prose is not musical, exactly. It is what I would call ritualistic. The monologues in the Outline trilogy are controlled trances, like Stevie Nicks at the end of \'Rhiannon’: you enter the speed and the artifice and the belief of it with her. They seem to have been written compulsively; they certainly read compulsively. There is a relentlessness to them, an onslaught that is like the onslaught of life. Occasionally you find yourself wishing for someone to get up and go to the bathroom, but most of the time you are transported ... Writing about writers is supposed to be boring, but this, for my money, is the most fascinating thing Cusk has done. Also, a fake Knausgaard shows up halfway through, and it rules ... The three novels blend together, and not to their detriment. Their of-a-wholeness is why they are so often referred to as ‘a project’. And the pleasure of this project is a rare one: it is the pleasure of a person figuring out exactly what she ought to be doing ... What do we make of a writer who does not much care to be seen as moral, but who still writes in the voice of the law? She is judge and jury, we have fallen jarringly into a universe of her making, a friendly concession once in a while would help, but no. She never softens her judgments for our sake.\