In the second installment of a planned trilogy, Cusk builds on the strengths of Outline (2015) and deepens them by giving her narrator a more human presence.
Once again, Cusk’s novel progresses through stories shared with the narrator by various people in her life; their arias of disconnection, fear, and loss swell toward a sorrowful climax that nonetheless contains both humor and hope. But this time, Faye (we actually learn her name, though it’s only used once) is more inclined to respond with musings of her own, more willing to share her history and—at least elliptically—her emotions. Following a divorce, she's moved to London with her two sons, though the crummy state of the council flat she bought necessitates repairs that send the boys to live with their neglectful father for a bit. They make reproachful phone calls while she's appearing at a book festival and visiting a cousin in the countryside, reinforcing her feelings of powerlessness and drift. It’s no accident that the book opens with an email from an astrologer; Faye sardonically notes that it's a computer-generated algorithm, but she pays nonetheless to get a reading about the “major transit…due to occur shortly in [her] sky.” She’s not the only one to feel in the grip of malevolent destiny. From the real estate agent who bemoans his clients’ blindness to “the decree of fate” to the cousin who proclaims that “fate…is only truth in its natural state,” Cusk’s characters disclaim personal responsibility even as they upend their lives. Only Faye seems willing to face up to the consequences of her actions, which is perhaps why she is offered, however tentatively, a chance for new love.
Brilliantly written and structured, which is nothing new from this superlatively gifted writer, but with a chastened empathy for human weakness that was absent from her last two novels. Its return is most welcome.