Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


In the Fold by Rachel Cusk








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Fans of dark comedy will be most appreciative of the talent Rachel Cusk displays in her latest novel, In the Fold. Each character has been formed through a sense of place and through the manners that life in that place expect those who are there must follow. Cusk’s presents characters in the past and present as an efficient way of presenting their formation. The contrast Cusk presents, as well as a range of morals, adds to the comedy of the expected behavior depending on who and where one is. This ensemble of characters may be the strangest you’ll see within the pages of single book. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 2, pp. 32-35:


Recently a series of events caused me unexpectedly to meet the Hanburys again.

I mentioned once to my wife, Rebecca, that Adam Hanbury still lived in Doniford, no more than sixty miles away. At one time we had been inseparable; now we could see each other any day we chose, yet we had not met for five or six years.

“He’ll come around,” said Rebecca sagaciously.

I guessed she was referring to the “big wheel,” a theory of events she had lately taken to propounding. Its basis was that existence is not linear but circular and repetitive. The idea was that you didn’t have to go out and get anything you just sat and waited for it to come to you, and if it was meant to, it would.

“He might just keep going the way he’s going,” I said. “We all might.”

“It’ll turn,” said Rebecca.

She revolved something invisible on the axis of her hand to illustrate her point. I was surprised to see how slow and grinding the revolution was, as she conceived it. Her hand moved only an inch or two. She spoke quite blithely, though. It was not a chore to her, this turning. It was a spectacle from which evidently she derived a certain joy. I wondered whether the fact of our estrangement altered what I knew of the three years during which Adam and I were friends. It made me feel uneasy sud­denly to think of it, as though everything that had happened since rested structurally and irremediably on that intensity that had given way so silently to indifference. Or, as though I had failed at numerous points in my life to establish whether it was for their lasting significance or their transitory attractiveness that I had chosen my circumstances, with the strange result that in the light of my friendship with Adam Hanbury, the existence I had constructed without him appeared to me momentarily as both insignificant and totally binding.

“I heard he got married’ I said.”I think they have some children.”

My wife shrugged and smiled a mysterious smile. It was unclear whether she was acknowledging that she could provide no proof of this or indicating that the subject of marriage and children was beneath her commentary. I wanted to take issue with the big wheel and the idea that we were all stuck on it, going round and round, endlessly held at a remove from the things we wanted. I suspected Rebecca only liked it because it proved that nothing was your fault.

“I don’t understand,” I persisted, “why we don’t see each other. We used to see each other every day.”

“I don’t know,” said Rebecca, who was apparently becoming irritated. “It obviously wasn’t your time.”

She meant, in terms of predestination.

“Was it all a waste, then?”

“How should I know?”

“You’re always telling me I should ask more questions.”

“Some questions don’t have answers,” said Rebecca. She looked fatigued. She fanned her face with her hand.

She had complained several times that I never asked her any­thing. What should I ask her? She didn’t know that was one of the questions that didn’t have an answer. Sometimes I saw in her a yearning for a time of reckoning that I felt she didn’t fully understand. She seemed to think that a move into an era of anal­ysis and interrogation would constitute a new, living chapter in our relationship or a new source of nourishment, as though after a famine; whereas to me it was clear that it would signify only that our relationship was over, that the disaster had occurred and that neutral forces of rationality; of law and order and civiliza­tion, were now washing over the wound. Marriage seemed to me to depend on two people staying together in time. It was like a race you ran together, a marathon. You kept your eyes ahead and you tried to surmount your weariness, and you reconciled yourself to the fact that while it may not be strictly enjoyable, at least running this race was healthy and strenuous and relieved you of the burden of thinking what else you might do with your time. I remembered a period of weeks or months when waking to the fact of my life with Rebecca was like waking to find an intricate moving pattern of sunlight on my body.

She was wearing a garment that resembled a complicated piece of Victorian underwear. It was cross-hatched with ribbons and little buttons and straps and it was edged with gathered lace all around the neck, so that in its painstaking envelopment of her form it seemed almost to be expressing love for her. Her face was mournful. I had the feeling I had begun to have occasionally, as though I were reaching the bottom of a long fall into water and were experiencing the change in pressure as I hollowed out the end of my trajectory and began to rise again. All the things I had gone streaking past on the way down now hovered around and above me, immanent, patient.

“Given that you always claim to feel so powerless,” I said, “I don’t see why you cleave to theories that make a virtue out of passivity

“What are you talking about?” she said.

Her pale blue eyes flashed past mine, little rents in her counte­nance. She looked momentarily lively. I had come to view Rebecca’s demeanor as involuntarily symptomatic of her con­sciousness, as though it were a drug she had taken whose crests and falls I had learned to read.

“If I haven’t seen Adam Hanbury, it’s because I haven’t both­ered to pick up the telephone and talk to him. It isn’t because of any wheel or because it wasn’t our ‘time.’”

In fact, as I spoke I realized that, as was often the case with Rebecca and me, the truth lay somewhere between us, lost.

“Call him, then,” shrugged Rebecca, with the clear sugges­tion that she regarded this as a typically dull, even a craven way to proceed, compared with waiting for Adam to “come around.”

That conversation was the first sign of the Hanburys, as a green spear poking through the brown earth might be the first sign of spring. Rebecca and I lived in Bath, in the middle of a Georgian terrace on Nimrod Street, in a house that belonged to Rebecca’s parents but that they were continually conferring on us, in one of the long, complicated strands of human intercourse of which their life was woven. The Alexanders liked to exist in a condition of sustained embroilment.


What will resonate for some readers is the clarity that what a place meant to us at one time on life doesn’t necessarily endure to others, and rarely transfers to others who weren’t part of the formative experience. Cusk uses In the Fold to enliven and enlighten with humor the ways in which our memories form a greater reality than our experience. We end up belonging to the people and places that make a difference in our lives.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2006 issue of Executive Times


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