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The Country Life

The Country Life by Rachel Cusk
47 reviews (1999) (352p)
ALA Notable Books - Fiction Finalist

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Book Description
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Stella Benson answers a classified ad for an au pair, arriving in a tiny Sussex village that's home to a family that is slightly larger than life. Her hopes for the Maddens may be high, but her station among them is low and remote. It soon becomes clear that Stella falls short of even the meager specifications her new role requires, most visibly in the area of "aptitude for the country life." But what drove her to leave her home, job, and life in London in the first place? Why has she severed all ties with her parents? Why is she so reluctant to discuss her past? And who, exactly, is Edward?

The Country Life is a rich and subtle novel about embarrassment, awkwardness, and being alone; about families, or the lack of them; and about love in some peculiar guises. Rachel Cusk's widely praised novel is a captivating tale of one young woman's adventures in self-discovery. Review
In Rachel Cusk's The Country Life, city mouse Stella abruptly abandons her London career and man for a job in Sussex. Her mission: to care for and transport young Martin, the disabled son of country mice Piers and Pamela Madden, owners of Franchise Farm. Alas, all is not ambrosia in Arcadia. For a start, the Maddens are, well, maddening. The paterfamilias sports "an expression of bright vacancy on his rosy face" whereas his wife evinces a more dramatic sort of derangement: "Pamela, I realized, spoke a language of energetic emergency, in which problems were approached as violently as they were escaped from." To make matters worse, not only does our heroine lack any background in her new field--she doesn't even know how to drive. Long before she's forced behind the wheel, however, Stella is out of her element. Nature, even the very air, seems against her. In one devastating tour de force, she falls asleep in the sun and is hideously burnt (but only on one side of her body!) and then suffers an indoor avian attack.

Fans of Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm will recognize more than a few nods to her classic in Rachel Cusk's hilarious and caustic third novel. For a start, the locals are unfailingly lugubrious, and every dog seems to have it in for our girl from the city. As for her young charge, Martin is either an emotional monster or a savior--though we readers might well opt for the former. The Country Life again and again displays Cusk's eye and ear for surreal comedy and social unpleasantry. Suffice it to say that your idea of a pleasant sojourn--or even a brief walk--in the country will never be the same. --Kerry Fried

Other Award Winning Books by Rachel Cusk
Transit by Rachel Cusk
53 reviews (2017) (272p) (Time Top10) (TIME)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's page
OUTLINE by Rachel Cusk
67 reviews (2015) (256p) (NYT100) (NYT Top10) (NYTimes) (Booklist)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's page

Rachel Cusk Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 1  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 1  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award


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