Transit is the second novel in a fascinating trilogy by award-winning author Rachel Cusk. The story revolves around the central narrator, whose name is only revealed once, and her move back to London after the breakup of her marriage. Although it sounds like a simple premise, the story is executed in an interesting and original way. Each chapter could stand alone as a short story as we are introduced to different characters that appear in the narrator’s life. Crucially, these characters are often not closely or personally linked to her new life or the life she had with her husband.
We meet an estate agent who sells her a bad house in a good area of London, we hear the stories of two authors who appear with the narrator at a book festival and are introduced to her hairdresser. All of these encounters are witnessed by the woman at the centre of the story but through these moments we do not gain a greater understanding of her or her situation. Conversations are observed by the narrator through an impersonal gaze, listened to with intelligence but little emotion. The narrator asks questions that almost make it feel as though she is a psychologist quizzing a patient. The result is that each encounter feels like a session of therapy, where deep and meaningful conversations occur and characters reveal their hopes and worries. Through each encounter the themes of existence, memory, place and time are revealed.
Transit feels like a voyeuristic experience. The reader is witness to conversations and moments that seem deeply meaningful but also very every day. In the chapter where the narrator takes part in the book festival, we hear the stories and processes of two other authors but as soon as it is the narrators turn to read, the novel cuts to the end of her story. We get a glimpse at the content of her reading when another character comments, ‘that woman was me, her pain was my pain.’ The focus on other characters sometimes builds a silence so absolute around the narrator that it creates an almost empty landscape, devoid of emotion. Moments like this let us see that this is not the case; she is, at least creatively, a highly emotional person.
This outward looking narrator creates a very different aesthetic to most other novels and it makes for a very interesting read, although one at times that can be frustrating. Cusk has cleverly crafted a book which manages to communicate all the emptiness and confusion that comes with a break-up and starting over again without including any personal insights or self-analysis from the character. The result is a novel that feels quite bleak, but brilliantly so. It will be interesting to see where the final volume in this trilogy will lead the novel’s narrator and also where it will lead Cusk.