The acclaimed novelist and author of the Outline trilogy collects essays on motherhood, marriage, feminism, and art, offering new insights on the themes at the heart of her fiction and weighing in on some of our most urgent personal, social, and artistic questions.
...a sharp new miscellany ... Cusk’s first collection of essays. It also contains some book reviews and introductions, but her heart does not seem in them. She mediates between her mind and the external world with a precision and agility that mostly goes missing when she mediates between texts ... [the essays] are first-rate, marked by candor and seriousness, and they’re familiar ... Her writing about parenting is discerning and granular ... Cusk’s essays are subtle; they do not announce their intentions through a megaphone. She feels her way into her topics and she will not be hurried. You read her for her riddling questions, not whatever answers might pop out at the end. She is often ambivalent, but never neutral in the self-protective modern manner. She is a poet of split feelings. Her inquisitive intelligence is the rebar that, inside the concrete, holds the edifice upright.
Though the metaphor is now a little tired, Rachel Cusk’s new essay collection, Coventry, flips it over to articulate her own desires for writing. In 'Making Home,' one of the book’s best essays, she imagines houses to be like novels, rather than the other way around ... Cusk throws out the furniture, but instead of standing alone in the newly spacious interior she then walks to the curb and describes how everything landed ... Cusk’s works give us something like the novel of exteriority: they consist almost entirely of recounted talk and external description, so we judge the characters not by what they think but by how they look and what they say ... It is a sturdy and worthwhile collection of previously published material, but it won’t change anyone’s mind about Rachel Cusk. It will not convert any of the haters, nor will it leave any of her fans thinking that she’s flown the coop ... Coventry might best be read as a publisher’s guidebook on Cusk Country’s dominant themes and narrative strategies ... The 'tension' that colors every aspect of one’s own identity and shared relationships but that is 'difficult to locate' in language: that is the meat of Cusk’s most riveting work ... If this is what you look for in Cusk, then Coventry delivers ... Fans of Cusk’s prose and authorial perspective, her cutting wit and inimitable turns of phrase, will enjoy these essays.
She writes like someone who has been burned and has reacted not with self-censorship but with a doubling-down on clarity. She is blazingly intelligent, a deep, tough-minded thinker (and sometimes over-thinker) whose essays, like the Outline trilogy, are at once freewheeling and exquisitely precise ... These 17 essays are better appreciated when read piecemeal (which is how they were originally published) rather than straight through, but readers will welcome their many insights into Cusk's mindset ... Not all of the essays feel essential; a short piece on artist Louise Bourgeois and another on Edith Wharton add little to the collection ... Reading Coventry, at times I found myself wishing for some charm or humor. Neither are qualities Cusk prizes, as she makes clear in an article on Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, which she finds distastefully egotistic and attention-grabbing. Cusk is no ingratiator; this uncompromisingly serious writer would rather live in Coventry than win us over by sugarcoating the truth.