Imbued … with Exigence

Christopher Tayler

  • In the Fold by Rachel Cusk
    Faber, 224 pp, £10.99, September 2005, ISBN 0 571 22813 5

Rachel Cusk recently wrote a piece for the Guardian describing her short-lived membership of a book group: ‘As if for the first time, I understood that reading is a private matter.’ Her co-readers’ inadequate responses to Chekhov provoke some grim reflections on the inadequacies of contemporary readers and writers. ‘Generally the greatest writers have written about what they’ve seen around them, about – in the parlance of creative writing schools – what they “know”.’ She quotes John Gardner saying that ‘great writers tell the truth exactly – and get it right.’ But, she says, ‘for the modern British – more to the point, English – novelist, this notion of truth is a little obscured and inaccessible.’ Historical novels and ‘books on “important” subjects’ are popular because they allow readers and writers to ‘evade the question’ of lived experience:

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