An eloquent and engrossing selection of nonfiction writing that will enhance Cusk’s stature in contemporary literature.

COVENTRY

ESSAYS

A striking collection of essays from the acclaimed British novelist.

In three thematically organized sections, Cusk, a winner of the Whitbread and Somerset Maugham Awards who is also renowned for her Outline trilogy (Kudos, 2018, etc.), brilliantly delves into expansive realms of personal memoir and social and literary criticism. In the titular essay, the author reflects on her odd, sometimes-tense relationship with her parents, who, for unaccountable reasons, will periodically stop speaking to her—a phenomenon that in England is referred to as “being sent to Coventry.” Cusk then expands her account of this experience to address further complex and sometimes strained aspects of her domestic life. Readers of the author’s first-person fiction will be pleased with the acutely observant narrative voice that characterizes these introspective meditations on family, motherhood, marriage, and community. “Part of the restlessness and anxiety I feel at home has, I realize, to do with time: I am forever waiting, as though home is a provisional situation that at some point will end,” she writes. “I am looking for that ending, that resolution, looking for it in domestic work as I look for the end of a novel by writing. At home I hardly ever sit down: the new sofa has nothing to fear from me.” In the section entitled “A Tragic Pastime,” Cusk deals with broader ideas of creative self-expression, gender politics, and the writing process. In the essay “Shakespeare’s Sisters,” the author sets Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own as alternating touchstones for considering the identity and concept of women’s writing within a male-dominated culture. In the final section, Cusk offers fresh perspectives on Edith Wharton and D.H. Lawrence and argues for the importance of Françoise Sagan, Olivia Manning, and Natalia Ginzburg. She also directs her discerning eye toward Kazuo Ishiguro and his novel Never Let Me Go and an even sharper edge to her withering assessment of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.

An eloquent and engrossing selection of nonfiction writing that will enhance Cusk’s stature in contemporary literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-12677-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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