This book takes place over the course of one ordinary day, in Arlington Park, a private housing estate just outside London. The viewpoint switches between four or five female characters as they go through their daily routines, and captures their thoughts.
Unfortunately, I found this book quite disappointing. There isn’t really a plot to speak of; this is very much a character driven story. This in itself would not be a problem, except for the fact that there wasn’t a single likeable character amongst the entire cast in this book! The book is populated by women who have nice houses in a nice area, are at least fairly well off financially, and have happy and healthy children. Now while I fully accept that having all of these things does not preclude someone from being unhappy or depressed, I would have thought that at least one of the characters might have been quite contented with her life. But unfortunately, all of the women in this book just seemed to be unhappy – and more irritatingly, they seemed determined to remain so. I ended up feeling frustrated with them, and wanting to point out how fortunate they were.
There’s no doubt that Rachel Cusk can write beautifully – the scenes from a school literary club were extremely believeable, as were the few pages describing the park (of Arlington Park) just after school had broken up for the day. Cusk captures the minutiae of a mundane or ordinary day very well, and at these points, I did find myself nodding in recognition at some of the observations she made. The characters were also well fleshed out. I just didn’t like any of them!
The other thing that bothered me about the book was the significance attached to the smallest things. For example, one wife spots a smear of butter accidentally left on the work surface by her husband. The author likens it to a small mark of (the husband’s masculinity). Well, it could be, I suppose. Or it could just be that the husband accidentally left some butter there. It felt as though there had to be some deep significance to everything that the characters saw, however trivial, however small.
Overall, while I can certainly appreciate the writing, and the attention to detail, this book just didn’t work for me. It was too miserable, and the characters just ended up being unsympathetic and unlikeable.