TBR: Arlington Park

I can’t say that I liked the first book I read by Rachel Cusk, her memoir A Life’s Work.  While I thought her prose was remarkable, I found it incredibly infuriating that as intelligent a woman as Cusk clearly is, would do something as irrevocable as having a child with so little forethought about how it would affect her life.  It’s one thing to hate the tediousness and isolation of parenting a newborn; it’s another thing to be surprised to discover that caring for a newborn can be tedious and isolating.

But her writing was powerful enough to make me pick up her new novel, Arlington Park, when I saw it at the library. The good news — Cusk still writes some extraordinary sentences.  The bad news — Cusk doesn’t feel compelled to have any plot at all.   The book is just about a group of women who live in a suburb of London, and what they do one rainy day — drop children at school, drink coffee, go shopping, take care of children, go out to dinner.  But when I say it like that, it sounds something like Mrs. Dalloway.  So imagine Mrs. Dalloway if the author didn’t have any affection for her subject, and you’ll have something like Arlington Park.

Here’s a paragraph chosen pretty much at random to illustrate what I mean:

"’Gypsies,’ Maisie said.  She shook her head.  ‘What a place to have to live.  Right where people come to pick up their sofas.’

Christine pondered the caravans and tried to work out what Maisie’s remarks signified.  It wasn’t the nicest thing to have a pack of Gypsies staring at you when you came to collect your sofa, she could admit, but it wasn’t the end of the world either."

Ultimately, for a book like this to work, I think you need to enjoy the company of either the author or the characters, and I was left quite cold about both.

2 Responses to “TBR: Arlington Park”

  1. momzom Says:

    Zoinks. A little sympathy and gentleness, please, for all of us who were surprised by the tedium and isolation, even though otherwise we’re pretty smart. I think a lot of writers and bloggers, Anne Lamott comes to mind, are surprised, too, and that’s what’s driving them to write. In my experience, nothing teaches you about motherhood but mothering, just as nothing teaches you about partnership except being someone’s partner. It’s high-stakes learning by doing, unfortunately. I don’t even remember someone telling me about the difficulties of infant care (I found the newborn stage just fine, it was 6-18 months that wrecked me); and if someone did, it was as if she were speaking another language. I have a much much younger sibling and a remarkably unsentimental mother, and I was still thrown for a loop. So, whatever Rachel Cusk’s other shortcomings, perhaps she can get a pass on this one.
    good luck with the house

  2. Megan Says:

    I thought the chapter from which you quoted would’ve made a good short story. I really do! But I also finished it with relief — I think it’s sort of pointless and grim altogether. I read it because I’m struggling with the way my 3rd child (coming unexpectedly when my other 2 were well out of babyhood) has turned my life upside down, and I wish I liked the characters more — I’m afraid I’ve found too much of myself in some of them. Now, to revisit Anne Lamott — I do find her refreshing.

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