“An astrologer emailed me to say she had important news for me concerning events in my immediate future.” The future of transit and changes that willingly or not Faye has to face. The loneliness and fear of making changes in life but also longing for peaceful and known patterns constitute the lives of characters of Cusk’s latest novel “Transit.”
R achel Cusk tells the story of a recently divorced, mother of two, writer – Faye who moves to London and tries to create a new life for herself and her children. The whole book is a record of her meetings and conversations with other people. Although she’s always in the middle of the events, she seems to be more in the background. The narrative “I” in Cusk’s novel is hazy and not self-centered. We rather get to know Faye through those encounters with other people, through their thoughts and responses. Even her name is mentioned in the book only ones. As if the “I” is not self-defined but rather defined by others’ stories and impressions. Cusk doesn’t reveal much about the protagonist, and her beliefs. When Faye participates in public reading with two other writers Cusks spends a couple of pages telling stories of Julian and Louis, but when she gets to Faye reading her work that’s what we get:
I read aloud what I had written. When I had finished I folded the papers and put them back in the bag, while the audience applauded.
She’s rather kind of listener than a talker. She listens to stories of her ex-boyfriend – Gerard, a Polish worker, a blocked writing student, friends, two other writers at the public reading. But what she doesn’t do is, she shares neither her thoughts, feelings nor her story. Faye’s records of those conversations and people she meets are quite detailed giving us a picture of their struggles and lives. She is a good life-stories-listener unlike when it comes to considering any advice regarding her own life. She buys an apartment that estate agent advice against; she invests a lot of money in renovating it against workers suggestions or her stylist who tries to convince her not to dye her hair. She simply doesn’t listen to them and does what she considers appropriate. In contrary, when other people tell their tales, she is suddenly a different person, open and genuinely interested.
“Transit” is full of stories loosely linked to each other. Mostly by the narrative voice of Faye. Cusk brilliantly navigates between different them, especially that it is rather not a plot-driven novel. Apparently, the combination of non-dominating narrative ego and loosely linked stories create perfect circumstances for discourse on quite complicated matters as loneliness, facing changes in life and fear of making one. When Faye meets her ex-boyfriend, who lives in the same apartment as they used to, with the same furniture, dresses in the same style, unlike she who on the other hand made quite a revolution in her life, Gerard sums it up
in a baffling way:
“It’s strange,” he said, “that you always changed everything and I changed nothing and yet we’ve both ended up in the same place.”
However, most of the characters in Cusk’s novel confront the need to make choices in life, to try to take control over their destiny and reach for what’s important to them. Yet often lost in the “chaos” of their lives, the risk of making a change seems to be inevitable.
It was an interesting thought, that stability might be seen as the product of risk; it was perhaps when people tried to keep things the same that the process of decline began.
Although Cusk portrays complicated matters of life, the novel is full of irony and humor reflecting a human characters, egos, and weaknesses. On the public reading when Julian, the first novelist, finishes his quite a self-centered and long reading and hands out the stage to the other one, Louis, the latter reflects:
I spend so much time in your shadow I’m starting to get vitamin deficiency.”
In “Transit” Cusk took a different approach from what we’re used to seeing in the novels. The approach that I believe results in the brilliantly crafted novel. What distinguish “Transit” among other are: the narrative voice, although the voice of the protagonist, that seems to be mostly in the background, hazy; non-plot-driven narration but rather a diary of loosely linked stories; as well as the absence of dialogues that are converted rather into Faye’s personal records of conversations. Cusk as a result of the combination of those three elements creates a unique novel with unparalleled feeling and form and still preserves perfectly planned and coherent whole.
“Transit” is the second installment of Cusk’s trilogy that began with “Outline”. Based on what I’ve experienced with the novel I certainly am waiting to get the third and final installment.