A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.
Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself.
Outline is a novel about writing and talking, about self-effacement and self-expression, about the desire to create and the human art of self-portraiture in which that desire finds its universal form. (From Picado)
Ryan and his brother were now effectively members of two different social classes, and while Ryan went off to Dublin to take up a university teaching post, Kevin returned to the damp bedroom of their childhood where, excepting the odd stay in mental institutions, he has remained ever since. The funny thing is, Ryan said, that their parents took no more pride in Ryan's achievements than they accepted blame for Kevin's collapse. They tried to get rid of Kevin and have him committed on a permanent basis, but he kept being sent back to them, the perennial bad penny. And yet they were also faintly scornful of Ryan, the writer and university lecturer, living now in a nice house in Dublin and about to marry, not the ballet dancer but an Irish girl, a college friend from the time before America. What Ryan had learned from this is that your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of.
From Outline by Rachel Cusk ©2015. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.