Sunday, November 22, 2015

This Country Life by Rachel Cusk

An urbane slightly hysterical Londoner attempts to find solace in the country life

Stella, 29, decisively cuts her ties to the city by answering an ad for a caretaker for a disabled boy living on a grand country estate.  On her arrival she finds that seventeen year old Martin is a foul mouthed little cynic. The remainder of the eccentric Madden family terrifies Stella, especially Pamela, Martin’s icy dictatorial mother. A key plot point is Stella’s anxiety at failing to disclose she cannot drive, when the job explicitly requires lots of driving. One disastrous mishap after the other ensues.  She has an awful date with a man with a weird shaped head, falls down the stairs, tracks tar across a light colored carpet, gets sunburned and encounters the mysterious person who runs the post office. Martin pesters her until he finds out her secret reason for leaving London. Also, in a wonderful scene, she does manage to drive him to school.

This is an old fashioned satire in the English strain, sort of like Wodehouse, but maybe more like Mr. Bean or even Benny Hill. There’s a first person self obsessed narrator, the innocent thrust into the society of sharpies. The humor comes from depicting the pomposity of human beings, their folly. Also there are lots of pratfalls. The writing has a polished sprightliness and there are some truly surreal scenes, especially the scene in the post office. It took me a while to get into the story, but after a twist, the narrative attains a loopy peak of ludicrousness and I couldn’t put the book down. The ending is abrupt, but the ending makes sense. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.

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