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I loved the way the end was done, in fact it was one of my favourite parts of the novel. So I've got my fix of vocabulary for a while - might be in need to some chick-lit to detox now, mind you. No, no and just I get that the story is supposed to be about middle-class angst in the form of a something woman, fresh from college and embarking on the "big bad world" of adult life, but the delivery of the story is just plain torturous.

I can appreciate that Cusk has a wonderful grasp of the English language, but it is almost as if she is too busy using her story as a showcase for her brilliant turns of phrase like "hormonal terrorism" to describe a woman's monthly cycle and wants the reader to appreciate her writing over he story being told. Given that [Saving Agnes] was published when Cusk was only in her mid-twenties, which helps explain why the story stutters between youthful naivety and worldly observations While I tend to like stories of a young professional woman trying to find herself in large metropolitan centre like London and New York, by the end of the story I was left thinking, "That was a long, arduous journey for the scant realization obtained.

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See our disclaimer. Living with her two best friends in London, Agnes feels that life and love seem to go on without her. But then she discovers that her roommates and her boyfriend are keeping secrets from her, and that her boss is quitting and leaving her in charge. Specifications Publisher Picador. Customer Reviews. Average rating: 3. See all reviews. Write a review. Average rating: 5 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews.

Saving Agnes: A Novel, Book by Rachel Cusk (Paperback) |

Superficially this situation resembles equality, except that it occurs within the domination of "masculine values". What today's woman has gained in personal freedom she has lost in political caste. Hers is still the second sex, but she has earned the right to dissociate herself from it.

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Cusk b Cusk's characters reveal above all the individuality of woman's experience in that general context of a masculine world that is a given. Stella Benson finds herself all alone in the cottage of a large house in the countryside, where she explores her own identity, which cannot be separated from her gender, and yet cannot be reduced to it. What is worth noting is that none of these women are sufficiently atypical as to become outcasts, but they remain on the margins, as their jobs as assistants or secretaries metaphorically imply: Stella is a solicitor but she introduces herself to the Maddens and the readers as a secretary.

If we take "feminisation" in its literal sense, these novels have various motifs that make them part of a renewed interest in the feminine. However, here again there is a disconnection between the plots and what is really at stake in these novels. Reduced to its bottom-line, the story of Arlington Park is too good to be true for the question of "the feminisation of writing": the London suburbanites driving their saloon cars to collect kids and shopping, weary of hosting parties for ungrateful neighbours that constitute their only social horizon, are nothing short of a stereotypical, middle-class woman in suburbia such as represented in films and series.

Love, marriage, and weight loss are on the agenda.

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  • Yet, all of Cusk's characters stop short of being the stereotypes they are expected to be: they do not fit into that frame of reference which is so ingrained and pervasive that it does not even need stating in the text. This is particularly true of her first heroine, who is a successful student who finds herself sharing a flat and going through an identity crisis: Agnes Day painted her face and starved herself; she shaved her legs and plucked her eyebrows and scrubbed the gravelly flesh on her thighs with a mitt of similar texture.

    She moisturised here and desiccated there, purged her skin of odour and oil and then force-fed it with creams and spray, as if hoping that one day it would give off of its own accord the exotic fragrance and softness which were now but briefly borrowed. She was vigilant and artful in stemming protuberance and decay, but subversion was all around.

    Contrary to appearances, Agnes would like nothing more than to be natural, for she regarded this incessant pruning and weeding as burdensome. She did not see it as her womanly business to pluck and purge and preen. SA, Something of the feminine masquerade8, or what others might call gender performance Butler is evoked here. However the character seems to be aware of impulses that are expected to remain subconscious.

    The use of the character's full name initially sets the tone for a description that emphasises the mechanical, illogical and systematic procedure that turns Agnes into a woman. The passage clearly seeks to expose the feminisation process by which a woman is born out of flesh. Parataxis imposes an internal rhythm that is in keeping with the binary or ternary beat that is created by the polysyndeton of "ands", in order to deny the pleasure that such a feminine activity is expected to foster.

    The process of feminisation is turned into something sordid but inescapable, and it is clearly separated from "woman hood " by the last sentence. That is why we are not surprised when a little further down we read: "[s]he wore her hair long, a trick intended to clear up any queries as to her gender. It hung elegantly from the scrawny neck of the coat- hanger, svelte and poised. It looked better without her. Yet it does not seem that cross-gender is what is at stake here.

    Cusk's characters seem to be coming to terms with their own individual inscription within that role and identity, whilst still being aware of the discrepancy between the feminine mask and their true sense of self. The clinical, cynical look with which the narration portrays that feminine transformation points to its vacuity.

    It is clear in this passage that the character is trying to grapple with a place and a situation that society has slyly imposed on her with a series of selfless actions that are mechanically accomplished. Saving Agnes is not a novel about gender confusion, but it questions the notion of femininity as beauty. Cusk thus stresses the physicality of the female body, a body that the character looks at from a distance, as a 'foreign body'. Inadequacy can be said to be a motif of her characters who, however, show no sign of their internal conflict: "[s]he had not been wearing underwear, and her flesh had looked both wizened and bloated, androgynous somehow, identifiable as female only by the bloodless lips of her genitals.

    This in turn positions Cusk in the general context of "women's writing"; she reinvests an area in which women tended to underline the corporeal nature of their experiences as a mode of protest, a risk taken after years of silencing. What is striking in her fiction is that none of her characters are exemplary or seen as universal. Any literature practiced as a dissidence of identity with respect to the normalizing format of the masculine-paternal culture, any writing making itself impulsive, would deploy the minority and subversive counterhegemonic coefficient of the 'feminine'.

    In looking at a man, this sensation might well be commonplace; but with a woman the problem becomes somewhat more visceral. CL, 19, emphasis in original Once again Cusk relates the question of femininity with the body "visceral" , by which she expresses the internal nature of that feeling.

    Moreover, the character's sense of self is first and foremost approached through references to her body, but not the feminine, beautiful body. Like Agnes's, this is a body that is always on the verge of becoming grotesque. The word "alien" recurs further down when Stella meets the teacher of the child she is looking after: "I had found it hard enough to communicate with this curious creature as a professional; but as a woman, she seemed even more alien. Treated as a joke, Stella's inadequacy might be reduced to an unimportant element in the economy of the novel, since the latter seems to concentrate on the impending danger that surrounds the family life in the country.

    Yet I would tend to suggest that this plot, and the detective-like nature of Stella's investigation after she has found the press clippings pinned up in the post-office backroom, is the pre-text for the exploration of the solitude of being that awaits Stella at every moment: "[i]t's difficult for us chaps to remember to tidy up. It seems that this world run by feminine figures, or at least focused on them, uncovers the ruptures and differences which these women seem to have to come to terms with.

    Is feminism a good way out of solipsism into the collective or the political? Not Feminist Enough? Funnily enough, this internal feeling surfaces in conversation about feminism, in what seems to be, so to speak, a transformation of the private into the political. We need a secret life. In fact, I can't think of anything worse than some post-feminist prat fawning over my body hair. Cusk is trying to represent the ambivalent feelings that it has created in young women who now believe they have a choice, although this choice always implies integrating "masculine values" when Agnes argues that "women could precipitate change from the heart of the patriarchal establishment," 56 her father's answer reveals how hard it is to make an informed decision about feminism and one that cannot be derided to boot: "[c]haps are more likely to listen to a pretty girl.

    Saving Agnes

    Feminism rubs shoulders with other ideological discourses, and Cusk's main characters seem to dread it like the plague. Agnes is so afraid to be swallowed by the ideology of feminism that she is ready to fight a lost battle with a rod for her own back. Once at college, she is approached by a feminist group and in an attempt to fend them off she says: "'I like having doors opened for me! The first reference to feminism, when Nina converses with some random guy, could well pass unnoticed as the effect intended is rather to show the vacuity of relationships in the context of a party.

    But the question recurs in the novel: the "feminist lobby" SA, 29 at university is said to be responsible for Agnes's rupture with the Catholic church, which Agnes had joined for community reasons rather than spiritual ones. The question seems so important that it is the object of a long development at the beginning of chapter 10, in which the narrator, under pretence of following Agnes's thoughts, constructs an essay in the ambivalent feelings feminism fosters and nourishes.

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    Here again the comparison with religion and the question of the physicality of the body are broached in what seems to be a detached development whose function is metatextual. This chapter includes two episodes, one in which Agnes remembers being in Seville with her boyfriend John and lying in the dark because both were unable to sleep. The anecdote is rather odd because it deals with Agnes's feeling of being threatened by her partner's interest in her as the heat in Seville gives her an impression that their bodies are melting into each other.

    The narration then moves on to Agnes's brother's visit, a visit during which Agnes's feeling of estrangement towards her brother escalates until she discovers his role in sacking people, and they fall out. As Agnes looks at feminism with the distant look of humour "The first thing she perceived about feminism was that it allowed women to be fat and ugly. As if such qualities were infectious, Agnes secretly put this idea to one side" 55 , the narrator endows feminism with agency, as if the ideology was not to be found in individuals but as a monster lurking behind every woman and ready to use them as dinner: "Feminism had discovered Agnes in her first year at university and, recognising in her the potential for prime, dissenting flesh, had been prepared to fight long and hard for her soul.