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.
As in a negative-space drawing, the trilogy’s narrator—a writer named Faye (otherworldly as in fey; defiant as in fie)—is a silhouette, rapt and wrapped, her form determined by the purposeful chat of others, which hovers, adheres, and sculpts. She is the prompt and master of ceremonies for other narrators ... That Cusk has constructed her novels in this radical manner seems both perverse and inventive and has caught the attention of many other writers. Despite comparisons, her work is not the autofiction of Karl Ove Knausgaard and Sheila Heti, whose own voices and personalities cram their pages; nor is it the meditative flâneurie of W.G. Sebald or Teju Cole; it is something more peculiar and thrilling and Cusk’s own ... The concentrated, flinty nature of Cusk’s mind (a fellow admirer and I often refer to her, in pseudo-jazz-intimacy, simply as 'Rachel,' though we have never met her and haven’t the flimsiest intention of trying to do so) ensures that authorial intelligence is burned into the syntax of every line ... What runs through her trilogy is a coolly abstracted consciousness organizing all the stories ... It is like reading the best kind of philosophy—steely, searching, brisk.
With the Faye triad, Cusk has created if not an obliterated narrator then the entrancing illusion of one. Yet Kudos bristles with pitiless—one might say 'negative'—description that invites the question of whether cruelty and honesty are the same thing ... Cusk, who with her Faye novels has achieved something both radical and beautiful, is pursuing the impossible. As she knows, there is no such thing as a fully negative novel: one that is entirely passive, impartial, and devoid of authorial imagination. Far from abrogating her powers as narrator, Faye takes possession of other people’s stories ... Cusk has not written a negative novel so much as she has written a novel about her failure to write a negative novel. In the end, though, one suspects that Cusk’s desire for creative authority is too understandably fierce for her to ever really sign on to negative literature, even if she could. Which makes Kudos—the title translates to 'honor, glory, status'—a book about failure that is not, in itself, a failure. In fact, it is a breathtaking success.
Kudos, the last installment of her much–talked about trilogy, which began with Outline and Transit, has a deceptively celebratory title. The book is not celebratory. In fact, the title is so slyly cynical—Kudos! (Chef’s kiss! Congratulations! Applause!)—I feel slapped by its subtle falseness. It is like a murderer saying 'kudos' before pushing you off a cliff ... Her version of extreme skepticism holds women’s pain up to the light like a prism, turning questions of motherhood and personal beauty this way and that, refracting sadness and ultimately proving—through dialogues about literary elitism, cruel husbands, and the superficiality of success—that none of us are in control of our destinies ... The grotesque, meaningless perfection of this ending to the Outline trilogy leads me to one conclusion only. Rachel Cusk must be our era’s new feminist Friedrich Nietzsche. In any case, she definitely deserves that Guggenheim. She gets a 'kudos' from me.
Kudos, reaches a kind of formal perfection. Rarely does a single word of its exceptionally polished prose seem out of place. What’s more, the driving philosophical concerns of the novel are, to put it in a single word, real: The questions are real, and there really are no obvious answers ... this tension—between Faye as the passive protagonist on one hand, and the selective and discriminating narrator on the other—might be the chief animating force of the trilogy ... The struggle a reader undergoes when reading these books, then, is just a miniature version of the struggle we undergo by living: We want to attach significance to the way events unfold, but we also know on some level that to do so is delusional ... The novel seems a form particularly ill-suited to make the point that narrative itself is merely self-deception. Anyone who really believed that would put the book down there and then—or stop writing it. Instead, Cusk has triumphed in the completion of this masterly trilogy; the reader must continue guessing at meaning, improvising and reworking it as the story unfolds ... the values of these novels are ultimately bourgeois values. Cusk approaches the philosophical questions of the books with what you might call bourgeois vocabulary— religious, literary, and psychological, rather than political or economic.
To read Outline, Transit, and Kudos in succession is to wander through a gallery of metamorphosed characters (the old have been made young, the young old; humans have become animals, animals human), never lingering on one long enough to feel attachment or sympathy, revulsion or contempt, only a disinterested appreciation for how they look. This is beauty in the purest and the cruelest sense of the word ... More explicitly than Outline or Transit, Kudos shows Cusk surveying the contemporary literary field and assigning its players—writers, agents, editors, critics—to their proper places ... an object lesson in rigor, elegance, and fury delivered by a narrative voice that is alternately humble and boastful, cajoling and bullying ... Sometimes Cusk’s cleverness feels strained. Sometimes it feels claustrophobic, as if in her final act Cusk has decided to seal up her fictional world, securing it from outside interference by making the agents of literary judgment her ventriloquist dummies. Yet in spite of these weaknesses, the trilogy stands as an extraordinarily successful exercise in mythopoesis, creating an autonomous universe that operates according to Cusk’s rules, her voice a cosmological constant throughout.
These crystalline and exquisitely elliptical works have helped define the genre of autofiction, self-referential novels in which protagonist and author blur and merge ... Although some readers may bristle at Faye’s narrative reticence—she comes at us obliquely, bent by the gravity of others’ voices—hers is a cruelly clear-sighted descriptive prowess capable of stripping her subjects bare. Like a pane of protective glass, the stark transparency of her prose contains—if only just barely—a beautiful and deadly animal ... That sense of the hazards of contemporaneity—anomie, technological apprehension, the anxiety of travel—is one of the great mimetic feats of Kudos. Cusk shares something of Don DeLillo’s ambient dread, though she sands the edges of her paranoia until they are smooth and contoured. Still, there is an undertow of nervy disquiet.
Cusk ends her unusual project brilliantly — after hundreds of pages of talk — with a powerful, vaguely threatening encounter that unfolds in silence yet speaks volumes ... In a world where most conversation is banal and repetitive and most people talk past each other, Cusk has created the ultimate, consummate listener. She has filled three books with the confidences her deliberately self-effacing narrator elicits from the people she meets while going about her daily business ... Cusk's narrator is less needy of life lessons, and even less of a presence. Her marked silence, and the convoluted confessions she provokes, frequently strain our patience or credulity. Where Transit left us looking forward to more, Kudos leaves us grateful that Cusk planned this as a trilogy and not a quartet ... a surprising, provocative finale — more exclamation point than full stop — which captures the wary standoff between the sexes that runs through these three novels. It also aptly underscores just how daring and remarkable a literary feat Cusk's trilogy is.
All three are narrated in the first person by a writer named Faye whose former life has gone up in flames, but they’re not about how or why the fire started. Instead, the novels describe in precise and haunting detail what it’s like to walk through the world, trailing ashes behind you. Most of us look away from such people. We don’t want to believe our houses could burn down too ... Part of the wonderful deadpan humor of the novels is that no matter how logical her objections are, no one ever revises his or her story ... She is deeply interested in the question of suffering, of whether or not there is value to it, and in this novel, she signals her inquiry right out of the gate.
She has that ability, unique to the great performers in every art form, to hold one rapt from the moment she appears ... As trilogies of recent vintage go, these books strike me as a stark, modern, adamantine new skyscraper on the literary horizon. One can recognize Cusk’s achievement, and admire the crisp workings of her mind, while still deploring the slight increase, as this trilogy has gone on, in oracular and overblown statements ... Cusk provides sly commentary on the notion that she’s writing anything that resembles a diary. She puts the words, of course, in anyone’s mouth but Faye’s, reminding us once again that it’s not what people say but what one hears that matters.
Written in a formal literary prose, the voice reminds me of the style of say W.E.Sebald, or perhaps Kafka in translation ... Cusk’s technique has been rightly heralded as ground breaking ... the novel has a unique form and voice, even though the device of a travelling writer meeting characters who tell him their life stories is time honoured ... This is a novel of ideas, intelligent, original in form and content, and brilliantly engaging. Many ideas about life and art are aired in its pages. But gender inequality is a recurring theme, reinforced by two striking images which bookend the novel ... Kudos is rich and compelling. It confirms Rachel Cusk’s status as one of the most interesting contemporary writers – avant-garde, highly original, challenging but entirely accessible.
The cycle constitutes an artistic breakthrough and a triumph within this decade’s international turn to autofiction ... The evenness of Cusk’s cool, detached style is a wonder. The prose of the Outline Trilogy is like a wide and placid lake. The reader is like a water-skier gliding along exhilarated by the combination of verbal tranquility and emotional intensity ... these books make no effort to persuade. They simply conjure beauty out of the least likely materials. Even after the details of the stories told in these novels fade from the mind (and they fade quickly, seemingly by design) the sense of their beauty lingers. The memoir of divorce Cusk published before Outline was called Aftermath. These books have an afterglow. Their catalogue of family and romantic miseries suggests, inadvertently, that it when it comes to love, if not literature, forgetting is the best of all things.
Faye’s absence reads like the self-abnegation of a soul trying to atone for something. On the other hand, it also reads like the primness of a control freak who owns the narrative voice completely by putting it into an eerie vacuum of her own making. Whatever the case, something has been removed, either through the stylings of a novelist or the dysfunction of a character’s mind. It’s either emotional or artistic erasure. The speakers form concentric circles around Faye, each leading closer to the core, like the canals of Amsterdam or the circles of hell ... How these different viewpoints get translated into law, how they become codified in the world, is a story, Cusk suggests, of elevating masculine myths over the truth—over a genuine justice ... It is better, Paola concludes, to be invisible or to be an outlaw. If Faye is invisible, the subversive Cusk is the outlaw.
The novel is peopled by free-floating founts of intellectualism, struggling with the social shackles that paradoxically continue to bind them. It’s as if Cusk has wearied of the business of constructing characters in which to place her ideas, as though characterisation were itself a kind of stifling confinement ... Although Cusk is far from a didactic writer (one of Faye’s interviewers helpfully performs the role of a feminist critic), she is intimately concerned with the architecture of women’s lives, the institutions and expectations – marriage, motherhood, loyalty – that continue to shape everyday experiences. But Cusk is too sophisticated a writer to cast women as innocent victims. In Kudos they are more often collaborators and conspirators in their own subjection ... There were times in Kudos when I felt an authorial impatience with the form Cusk has so profitably unearthed, as though something gloriously fruitful was in danger of hardening into a stubborn conceit. But such nagging apprehensions were in the end extinguished by an unsettling and comically primal final scene that, like so much else in these books, will live long in the memory.
With the release of Kudos, these three novels can now be appreciated — and will surely be looked back on — as one of the literary masterpieces of our time ... The stories are the thing. Admittedly, they revolve mostly around marriage, separation and children. But each one reinforces, complicates or undermines the others in a bewitching feat of theme and variation that is rich in emotion, suspense and humor ... Cusk’s deeper theme is the question of how power shapes potential. How do parents shape their children? How do humans shape nature? How does narrative shape truth? In each case, what is gained and what is lost? ... Cusk tells so many stories in part, you feel, because she wants to know what they are for. Are stories a product of the struggle to create meaning, as one character wonders? Or are they more often a mechanism by which to avoid responsibility, to assuage guilt?
Her writing is silvery and precise, navigated by elegant syntax that steers its speaker towards revelations of great depth ... though she allows herself space for meandering, her approach is artful and controlled. In certain moments, she achieves the sort of emotional clarity that can make intimate personal experience take on the weight of ancient wisdom ... It’s a fearless and brazenly dark end to an unforgettable trilogy, which, in its final installment, turns a critical eye on the way we read and then appraise a book’s value. I’m not the first person to suggest this, but these novels are among the most important written in this century so far.
The book’s main setting—a drab, inconvenient hotel in an ugly minor city in southern Europe—functions as a wide empty stage on which Cusk’s astringency and intelligence can stand forth in all their bleak beauty and rigor ... Kudos has a confessional, ruminative quality reminiscent of W.G. Sebald, along with a Sebaldian weltschmerz. A recurrent theme is that of losing one’s illusions, seeing life—especially life as a woman—as it truly is, and having the strength and honesty to tell one’s truth ... Flowing forth with little to no prompting, the characters’ polished, literary monologues continually threaten to disrupt the larger realism of the novel, but somehow their artifice fails to undercut their power to engross ... Refracted through fictive others, her vision is more powerful and polyvocal, and at the same time the loneliness that haunts her work is made more bearable and resonant by being shared and affirmed by this community of fellow sufferers.
Passenger flight explains these incredible novels. At first, for several pages, it’s hard to relax. Why must we be in this stifled, banal environment, with no room to think? How long do we have to sit here? The air cools, dims. Suddenly we are on a higher plane. Transcendence is the only explanation ... in Kudos she is superb, undefeated. Cusk allows her narrator’s preternatural reserve to take on the air of fine, mystic judgment ... Subtlety. Variations. A form that almost resembles formlessness allows her to do the hardest thing in writing, irrespective of genius: to say what is there.
This important trilogy, then, through its eloquent polyphony of voices and opinions, arrives at an idea of feminist art in opposition to the confessional mode that has long been in ascendance. Ms. Cusk’s tools are ambivalence and elusiveness—or, to rearrange James Joyce’s terms of independence: exile, cunning and silence.
...a blazing experiment in auto-fiction that seamlessly amalgamates form and substance ... The idea of freedom — the thinking woman writer’s buzzword of the moment — has always been central to the trilogy, but Kudos suggests that what we think of as freedom is often only the illusion of such ... So, does the novel live up to its title? In short, unequivocally. Despite their ostensible uniformity, each of the three volumes delights in a different way. Outline dazzled with its intrepid originality, while the low hum of violence that ran through Transit had a mesmeric quality, and now Kudos, which builds to a sparkling crescendo, thrills at its own more serene tempo. Regarded as a whole, it’s a tour de force of a trilogy.
Faye has a series of encounters with people who, dispensing with small talk, and even standard greetings, launch into unprompted monologues ... Why this approach, even on its third round, is never dull, contrived or pretentious has something to do with the characters and their soliloquys and a lot to do with Cusk’s thrilling intelligence and lightness of touch. Her work has been described as darkly serious, and it can be, but she’s also deviously funny ... A triumphant finish to an ambitious, unconventional trilogy cements Cusk’s position as one of today’s most original fiction writers. The charged delicacy of these books is underpinned by what is sure to be their durability as literature.
Of the three novels, Kudos is the most insular and self-referential, in large part a meditation on the nature of publishing and publicity, literary fame, and the value and worth of literature itself ... one of the most brilliant aspects of this novel is the way it uncovers the analogies between imaginative productions and 'real' life and the way the two can mix and merge. Filled with reflections on authenticity and falseness, Kudos lays bare the theatricality of ordinary actions and the difficulty of distinguishing real from pretend ... The novel, and trilogy, end rather disappointingly, with a final scene whose black comedy isn’t as resonant or funny as one might have wished. But the one flat note emphasizes how unerring the rest has been. These are deeply intelligent works that cast a hypnotic spell.
The handful of poor or working-class characters who appear in her books are often rendered unsympathetically and without much psychological depth. This can be frustrating, given that her middle-class characters often opine on their experiences in ways that draw universal lessons from their privileged status ... Critics have praised the way the trilogy [in which Kudos is the last novel] upends the rules of fiction, and they’re mostly right: Although Cusk’s material here is the same as in her earlier novels, she has reworked it so that it’s almost unrecognizable in its new form. The formal strategies she’s devised—outlining and erasing, compiling and undercutting—allow her to write honestly and precisely about the many sacrifices that women and men make in order to abide by the rules of domestic life. Unlike her memoirs, which at times can feel overwrought, Cusk finds a way here to be serious without being self-serious. While the novels are about the impossibility of achieving freedom or liberation, they are also evidence that an experienced artist can dispense with old habits and conventions to experiment with new styles and forms. Cusk finds a freedom in art that she cannot locate in life.
...there is a self-consciousness to all this, a riddling, hall-of-mirrors element that is the reverse of the radical humility of the first two books. And it creates, simply, distance. Faye keeps secrets from us now: where she is, what has happened in the – seemingly considerable – time that has passed since the last book...It feels like a betrayal, or a snub ... There are many remarkable moments in Kudos; it is a fine novel that deserves to receive – and probably will, given the limping nature of literary kudos – a heap of awards in recognition of the vast achievement of the trilogy. Nevertheless, I was sorry it ended here.
With Kudos, British author Rachel Cusk completes an extraordinary trilogy of novels that may have even forged a modern form (nodding to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio’s Decameron and the fiction of W.G. Sebald) ... Cusk's narratives...elude easy description ... They enter a reader’s imagination like a series of half-remembered dreams whose details seem at once to vanish, but whose ambiance continues to haunt with an eerie, desolate beauty ... Much of the trilogy’s genius lies in this structure: a smoothly linked chain of monologues ... Granting that the Outline Trilogy is called fiction, it burrows beneath our skin; we sense that all its conversations, characters and the troubling implications of their strivings, happened.
Their voices can come close to converging but they’re saved by their stories’ distinctness and depth. And, of course, Cusk’s brilliance. If she’s found her novelistic structure it’s because it allows her to overwhelm the reader with profound insight only to, a few pages later, reach new heights on an entirely new topic ... If you take Cusk for a political writer, which wouldn’t be wrong, there are plenty of ways to render the passage into concepts of commonality, identity, and appropriation. The stories in Kudos have a lot to say about literature’s use and misuse in the 21st century, and, more so, women’s. Her splashes of second-wave feminism are not epiphanies, but they’re fresh enough in the context of a literary world busy on succeeding schools ... Whether through fiction or memoir, her work has always been personal, continuously illuminating the questions of her own life. The Outline trilogy is no different, just in its own combusted way. And in the kudos passage, we finally have a sketch of the chemistry behind it.
...these speeches, which seem to unfold naturally, are actually brilliant, perfectly controlled performances through which Faye — quoting and paraphrasing — travels from point to point, creating a narrative where none, in any conventional sense, exists ... There is something almost surreal, and ultimately funny, about how one character after another meeting Faye has definite opinions on questions of interest to her — about freedom, illusion, power, literary ambition, familial and marital relations (everyone is divorced) — and an uncanny ability to articulate them ... Along with recognition or acclaim, 'kudos' in its original form is 'suggestive of something which might be falsely claimed by someone else.' Whatever her interlocutors might say, it is Faye's story, to Rachel Cusk's honor and glory.
Set against the political backdrop of Brexit, Cusk’s dramatization of the ongoing struggle for feminine identity in a traditional and patriarchal world is burdensome and bleak, even as rare moments of tenderness shine through. Brilliantly aware without being indulgent or preachy, this novel has the intense beauty of form that has marked Cusk’s trilogy from the beginning, and the final installment does not disappoint.
Cusk’s trilogy — Outline, Transit, and now Kudos — also features a narrator who is effaced, hidden, largely silent on the subject of herself, whom we nevertheless come to know in a profound manner through the stories she relays about others ... a refreshing new model of storytelling for Cusk ... Cusk seems to be saying something valuable about shutting up and listening. And also about attention. Attention, she suggests, can yield grace ... It’s difficult to catch Cusk, or Faye, in the act. How does she manage to paint such an abominable picture of this woman with a series of neutral, apparently reasonable, observations? ... In remaining largely unknown, Faye allows Cusk to explore universality, which is a sort of truth, perhaps a sort of grace.
In the trilogy of intriguing novels that she completes with Kudos, Rachel Cusk has routinely subverted essential ideas of narrative and storytelling ... On first encounter, the novels seem to have very little plot (arguably, the second book, Transit, has the most), but far from random, their episodic forward momentum makes them curiously hard to put down ... On one level, Cusk lampoons the insular literary world, with its intellectual puffery and self-congratulatory prize giving (i.e. kudos), as she deviously exiles Faye to far-flung backwaters. But Cusk, like Faye, refuses to undermine the seriousness that lurks beneath the sometimes inappropriate, sometimes self-important, often uncomfortable observations of those she meets. 'The human situation is so complex that it always evades our attempts to encompass it,' one characters says, and ultimately this truth is what Cusk tirelessly seeks to circumvent. In the end, one can’t help but hear echoes of E.M. Forster’s elusive advice: Only connect.
You either love Rachel Cusk’s narrative technique or you don’t, and if you are still with her for Kudos, the final installment of her trilogy, then it must be because you love it ... the self-effacing narrator whose name is mentioned only once; the telling of the story through a series of conversations rather than the showing through action; the lack of a traditional plot or an obvious narrative arc; the preoccupation with the cruelties of divorce and the damage that adults do to their children; and the business of being a high-brow, belletrist author ... Kudos strips away the noble, glamorous veneer to reveal the profane guts of the book industry ... It’s a pointed remark to the narrator, a fictionalized version of Cusk, a writer who demands of her reader all their attention without offering such fripperies as conventional plot or dramatic tension in return.
Despite the brilliantly detailed descriptions of these characters and the locations through which they uneasily pass, this is not conventionally naturalistic fiction; conversations reveal unrecorded lapses of time within the narrative, and people examine their experiences in highly abstract language not intended to reproduce vernacular speech. Physical reality is as mutable and subject to question as the identities people carefully create and then later reject ... a jarring and ugly final scene confirms an overall impression that Cusk’s views of human nature and personal relationships are as bleak as ever. Brilliantly accomplished and uncompromisingly dark.