In the Fold by Rachel Cusk

A lot of syllables but only a little heart

But Cusk begins her novel more cleverly than this, with a flashback to the first time that Michael met the Hanburys at Egypt. They are an eccentric, middle-class family who don't introduce themselves to Michael but instead throw him a set of car keys and ask him to get more booze for their party. Nevertheless, Michael falls in love with this family, and now, in a time of personal crisis, he feels that they might be able to save him.

It is, of course, a false hope because when he meets them for the second time, their flaws are clearly displayed. How much sympathy you have for Michael will depend on how much sympathy you have for Cusk's writing style. If sentences like "a person captured in a ceaseless act of self-manifestation, whose absence, when it comes, will be felt, in the failure to maintain a hold on even a remnant of her humanity, as a kind of death" fill your heart with joy, then you will adore him. This is a particularly literary style, and it has won Cusk many accolades and awards.

But even so, one cannot help wondering if such florid sentences, where meaning is constantly deferred and metaphors and similes proliferate, simply mask the fact that at the novel's heart there's not very much going on. The disintegration of Michael's marriage happens largely off-screen until the end of the novel, where an absurd conversation takes place. (Do people really say things like "To live adjacent to your own conservative compulsions" out loud?) And the Hanburys' shabby-genteel, easy eccentricity is revealed to be a sham, with avarice at the centre of it, in one rather contrived scene.

Cusk wants to examine middle-class rise and fall in this novel - Adam now occupies a new-build on an estate with an unimaginative wife, Lisa, and loathes the colonially named farm he grew up on. But that rise-and-fall somehow seems like a small story here, and no amount of overwrought sentences can make it any bigger.

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