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.
This dichotomy, between the fictions we compose about our lives—the specific lens through which we chose to view them, and the truth, is a recurring theme in this incisive, sagacious collection of essays. Reading through them offers the pleasure of watching Cusk’s mind at work as she confronts and digs deep into the psychological dynamics underlying subjects ... Coventry marks a return to a more conventional style of writing, yet retains that same sense of an alert, engaged intelligence, negotiating the complexities of women’s lives and identities in our present moment ... what makes this well-crafted collection worth spending time with is Cusk’s voice: sharp, articulate, intelligent and honest. Brutally honest, but in a way that opens new horizons of thought and shows us the world from fresh perspectives.
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.