Magazine article The Spectator

Stifled by the Suburbs

Magazine article The Spectator

Stifled by the Suburbs

Article excerpt

ARLINGTON PARK by Rachel Cusk Faber, £14.99, pp. 240, ISBN 9780571228478 . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

As a student I remember being directed to chapter 42 of Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, the brilliance of it being that 'nothing happens'. Ever since I've regarded the ability to keep your reader hooked through a whole chapter in which nothing happens to be the acme of fictional achievement.

Rachel Cusk does it in a central chapter of Arlington Park, describing a day in the life of the park itself where everyone and everything -- clouds, grass, people, dogs -- are caught up in a relentless and seemingly meaningless dance. A young man holds on to the tugging strings of his kite 'as if he were holding on to the world itself', dog-owners throw sticks, joggers jog, and the mothers in the 'fenced enclosure' of the children's playground see everything moving around them, 'the whole mechanism of the world, running on, running like a machine . . . for them it was a form of agony to watch it.' The 'fenced enclosure' sums up the condition of the five 30-plus women whose lives, trapped in the prosperous but deadly suburb of Arlington Park, Cusk investigates. Juliet, an English teacher, regards herself as 'murdered' by marriage and motherhood. Amanda's life since moving to Arlington Park has begun to feel colourless.

Solly, pregnant with a fourth child and faced with a glamorous Italian lodger, sees herself as 'a woman who has spent her life until there was none left'. Maisie, feeling 'imprisoned', tells her children they've ruined her life and at 38 blames her parents for everything from her own angry discontent to 'the melting snows of Kilimanjaro'.

The character of Christine, distantly and detatchedly aware of the world's problems but lost in the littleness of her own life, perhaps epitomises Arlington Park itself. …

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