Just the Right Book! is different than the other book subscriptions I’m reviewing this year in that a real life person actually picks a book out just for me – as opposed to picking out one book to go to all subscribers. There are numerous subscriptions to choose from. I choose a 12-month softcover subscription, which cost me $240 and I filled out a fairly long and involved profile to indicate what genres, authors, etc. I’m interested in.
You may remember from my previous Just the Right Book! review that last month there was a bit of a snafu. If you’re too lazy to click that ole link, I will just tell you that essentially they sent me a book that was sort of the opposite of what I asked for. I ended up giving them some feedback about it and it turns out there was an error on their end with the way the order came through and I was assured that future books would be more to my liking.
As it turns out, that is true, at least for February, because Outline by Rachel Cusk was exactly what I asked for: Literary fiction that was below the radar and I was likely not to have read. In fact, I hadn’t heard of it or her and I did end up enjoying it. So thanks, book person who picked this book!
There are a lot of opinions about this book on GoodReads and as printed by major publications, and a lot of those opinions are less than stellar. I’ve seen more than one person say something to the effect that this book is like reading the notes of someone in a writing workshop. I think that’s not entirely false but I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to be true, so there’s that.
As the name implies, Outline does have more of an outline vibe than a fully functional novel vibe. The basic premise is that an author has traveled from London to Athens to teach a writing workshop. Each chapter is a sort of glimpse into a different character and how that character interacted with the protagonist.
Some characters come back a few times, and some chapters feature more than one character. I found them all to be interesting and, yes, each chapter could have been fleshed out into a novel of its own right, but this book felt finished to me – or as finished as a book of interesting and well-written experiments can be.
I should note that I am most decidedly not a plot-driven reader, and I can imagine that those who are would be thoroughly annoyed / put out by / angry at / distraught by / tired of/ impatient with / generally unhappy by this novel. For me though, it was interesting, lively, and beautifully written.
Recommended for: Other writers, people who like language and character studies more than they like plot, people interested in Athens
Does it pass the Bechdel–Wallace test? Yes
Author of color / main character of color / female author / female main character: N / N / Y / Y