The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy, By Rachel Cusk

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The Independent Culture

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Rachel Cusk's work: it takes me a while to get used to her hierarchical use of detail, which at first can seem like preciousness, or even snobbery. For example: "It strikes me that Contatti! has something about it of Debrett's book of social etiquette ... people are helpful and kind in Contatti!, but they are untouched by passion or by failure: they do not scream or cry or love." It's just a language textbook, I want to scream, it's not War and Peace! And Cusk does the same with The Cat in the Hat, where "the Cat is the mother's antithesis, anarchic and free, available, unscheduled". It's just The Cat in the Hat! I find myself screaming once again.

But once the screaming stops, and I've adapted to Cusk's delicate middle-class world, and stopped wondering why she mysteriously focuses on details to the exclusion of any discussion of how and why she and her family decided upon and planned their three-month stay in Italy, she does that magical thing she does and transports me with musings on life and art and an artist's role. ("We... who all know we will eat a last supper of our own").