New York Magazine has today posted an interview of novelist Rachel Cusk. The interview is by Heidi Julavits and opens with this brief summary of Cusk’s work:
Cusk is the author of three memoirs and nine novels, most recently Transit, which came out in January to rapturous reviews. It is the second in a planned trilogy that has, along with her memoirs, made her a cultish figure. She writes about motherhood and marriage and houses. In the hands of a different writer, these might be neutral topics. Neutral love in neutral boxes. Cusk is not neutral. She is divisive. Readers love her or readers really do not love her. She, Cusk, the human being, is often hated.
Most of the article is devoted to a discussion of some of her more “devisive” works, in particular the 2001 essay or memoir about motherhood entitled A Life’s Work. But at the beginning of that discussion this brief, throwaway paragraph appears:
Early in her career, Cusk was not especially controversial. She published three novels influenced by Evelyn Waugh. These books were deemed witty and clever. She won awards and gained notice.
These novels are indeed both “witty and clever”. They actually made one laugh, something that is much less likely to happen when reading the later, more controversial works. One would like to hear more about why Cusk’s work, especially her fiction, changed direction after the last of these early novels was published in 1997. This subject was hinted at in an earlier interview, but that line of questioning is not taken up in this one. See previous post. How much these early novels were inspired by any specific works of Evelyn Waugh is hard to say, but they were certainly written in the same satiric tradition and could equally well be said to have been “influenced” by Anthony Powell, Kingsley Amis, Barbara Pym or Jane Austen. These novels remain in print (two in the US and all three in the UK) and are worth pursuing if one hasn’t already done so: Saving Agnes (1993), The Temporary (1995) and The Country Life (1997).