Kudos is the third and final part of a fictional project Rachel Cusk conceived in the wake of Aftermath, her 2012 divorce memoir. An examination of her experience in the light of Greek tragedy, Aftermath had resulted in a critical pile-on, as had her motherhood memoir, A Life’s Work (2001).
The premise of Outline, the first part of the trilogy, suggested that Cusk had had enough of self-disclosure (the fresh start perhaps also being signalled by her striking use of Optima typeface, shorn of serifs). The narrator, Faye, a Cusk-like writer running a creative writing workshop in Greece after a break-up, heard other people’s stories but shared little of her own – an almost penitent retreat into selflessness marked by Cusk’s decision to withhold Faye’s name save for a single mention when used by someone else in conversation, something she has repeated in the following two books. Near the end of Kudos, which takes its epigraph from Stevie Smith’s ‘She Got Up and Went Away’, her son calls and says, ‘Faye ... will you just listen?’, which is more or less all she does.
In the second part, Transit, Faye returns to London. Again, the novel consists solely of conversation, from an argument about soundproofing with a foul-mouthed neighbour to a late-night walk at a book festival with a panel chair who tries to seduce her. In Kudos, Faye is on a promotional tour in Europe (where is unspecified; it isn’t France, Spain or Italy). She attends a literary festival and has a series of interviews with journalists. She talks while on a flight to a 46-year-old retired director of a global management company who is too lanky for his seat. He describes more or less unprompted the death of his dog and how he cried when his daughter played the oboe in a school concert. Then Faye talks to Linda, a menopausal American writer whose first novel has just been translated into the language of the country they’re visiting.
These are stories within stories. The effect is stimulating enough, like being in the company of intelligent, reflective people discussing ideas. One way to treat the novel would be as a series of thought-provoking propositions circling themes of art and self-determination:
Negative literature, he had noticed, got