Review – Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk

This is my first encounter with the writing of Rachel Cusk although this is her sixth novel and was shortlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction.  The novel opens with rain and a dreary ambiance which persists in permeating the whole text.  This is a story about a day in the life of five 30-something married women, detailing all the humdrum activities with which they fill their hours – manic morning getting the kids to school, grocery shopping, coffee at the local shopping mall, cooking and cleaning, vapid dinner party conversation.

  Juliet is a part-time teacher married to Benedict, a pleasant English teacher but she is seething with resentment at what her life has become

All men are murderers, Juliet thought.  All of them.  They murder women.  They take a woman and, little by little, they murder her.

Solly, perpetually pregnant, lives her life vicariously through the lives of the single female lodgers who rent a room in her home.  Christine, as uptight and taut as a rubber band, realises how rubbish her life is but is determined to plough on through it.  Amanda, with her pristine, spotless house and beige carpets, just wants to be in control.  Maisie, newly arrived from London, is finding it hard to fit into her new life.

Rachel Cusk is undoubtedly a very gifted and elegant writer.  This is a very well written novel although sometimes it felt a bit “over-written” and the author’s hand became too obvious.  She takes the minutiae of domestic life and elevates them with beautiful, lyrical prose.  One could be forgiven for wondering if feminism has made any mark on society, given how shackled and unhappy these women appear – none of them are content with their lot, they seem to live life on a knife edge, teetering from one hour to the next, motherhood has been more of a curse rather than a blessing to them.  Are men and women truly equal especially if the mother stays at home to look after the children and the home?

I, myself, am a stay at home mum but if my experience ever matched any of Cusk’s characters I think I’d just give up!  This is not an uplifting book and I am sure that the characters’ unrelenting misery matches that of some people’s experiences but personally, I found the doom and gloom relentless and whilst I don’t have to like characters in order to enjoy a book, the overall air of pessimism, frustration, self-victimization and self-pity ended up enraging rather than engaging me.  I’m still keen to explore more of Cusk’s novels and will read Saving Agnes soon.

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