May 5, 2008

The Country Life

by Rachel Cusk

I actually finished reading this book a day or two ago, but my house is still in such chaos from moving I didn't have a moment to sit down until now.

What a curious book. Part of me felt compelled by it, so that I was really immersed while in the moment of reading. The other half of me felt frustrated by it, over and over again. The Country Life is about a city girl, Stella, who suddenly drops everything in her life, gets rid of her apartment, destroys years' worth of memorabilia, evades her family and disappears into the country where she takes a job as an au pair. The family is rich and eccentric. They own a farm, but not much is described of farm life, or about the country at all except the excruciating heat and a few incidents where she gets severe allergies from walking through a grain field. The teenager she's there to take care of is disabled and in a wheelchair, but except for one awkward afternoon at an activity center for disabled kids, the issue is never really treated seriously.

Instead, what we get are endless pages of Stella's internal dilemmas over the smallest things. She worries herself over every little incident like whether her employer will notice she's worn the same clothes twice, what the checker will think of her purchase at the grocery store, or which path she should take to the front door. Every little personal interaction is analyzed too, especially what everyone thinks of her and how she fits into conversations. It is an interesting look at human nature, but sadly this is the main strength of the novel. There were so many tantalizing pieces of the story left incomplete and unanswered that ultimately I found the ending unsatisfying. It felt unfinished. But as a redeeming factor, there are some completely hilarious parts, like where her inability to drive (a requirement of the job) is suddenly discovered and she attempts to learn on the spot, or when she accidentally breaks a bottle of champagne, drinks herself silly and then knocks the family dog senseless with a lawn umbrella.

Rating: 3/5               342 pages, 1997


Trish said...

So, I'm wondering what was so compelling! I mean that statement in a curious way, not in a negative way. I like my endings wrapped up nicely, for the most part, but there are some exceptions.

Jeane said...

The internal dialog of dilemmas was fascinating and amusing (to a point). And I was really expecting that all the quirks in the story would get explained or wrapped up. Even up until the last chapter I was hoping for that. So it was really the end that disappointed.