In 2005, the novelist Rachel Cusk wrote an essay about a book group she had briefly joined. It had not been a happy experience. After a series of disappointing, often “glum”, meetings, Cusk concluded that “reading is a private matter”.
“In this atmosphere the spell was broken,” she wrote. “What remained was a cold, unyielding surface for a writer’s imaginings to fall upon: the permafrost of organised ambivalence.” This was not the only problem. Cusk had quickly become irritated with the other women’s lack of literary insight. The week they discussed Chekhov – Cusk’s final appearance at the book group – was excruciating. “After a silence someone else finally blurted out that she couldn’t get on with Chekhov – was that his name? – at all. Not at all. Sombrely everyone else owned up. It was just awful.”
I have no reason to doubt Cusk’s version of events, though in fairness to the rest of the group, it can’t have been easy sharing the dinner table and the discussion with a writer who had, two years previously, been included in Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists”. You might understandably think twice about saying, “Well, I thought the main character actually seemed quite nice, no?”
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