Author: RachelCusk
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-037-427986-8

Kudos is the third book in Rachel Cusk's trilogy. I've discussed the two earlier books, Outline and Transit. As in those novels, Kudos has no conventional plot as defined in my on-line dictionary as "the main events of a novel devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence." There is no rising action leading to a denouement. The narrator, a middle-aged British novelist, flies to an unnamed foreign city (it sounds like Dubrovnik to me but it could be Gdansk) to speak at a literary festival and people talk to her. 

That's it.

Her seat mate on the plane tells her a story about the family dog. She meets her publisher at the conference hotel who talks about publishing. She meets another writer who tells her about a writing workshop she recently attended. She meets an interviewer. She is taken by a guide, a young man, to a party across the city who talks about college and his generation's attitudes. She meets a wealthy woman who offers her estate as a writing retreat. She meets another writer whose entire life has been changed by a smartwatch.

She describes the conference and quotes and evokes the writers at it. She meets with her local publisher's publicist who has set up interviews, one of whom who spends all the time available talking about himself. At the end of the book she has a phone conversation with one of her children back in London who has had a small crisis. She assures him everything will be all right.

And that's it.

But of course that's not it. The stories are interesting in themselves, in what they reveal (or don't) about the speaker, in what they say about the narrator and what she chooses to quote, and how they resonate, one against the other. Given that the narrator is a writer and the scene is a literary festival, there is more than a little about literature and the literary life. Her publisher, for example, has returned the company to solvency by jettisoning unprofitable literary novels and she asks about publishing.

"What all publishers were looking for, he went on—the holy grail as it were, of the modern literary scene—were those writers who performed well in the market while maintaining a connection to the values of literature; in other words, who wrote books that people could actually enjoy without feeling in the least demeaned by being seen reading them. He had managed to secure quite a collection of those writers, and apart from Sudoku and the popular thrillers [the firm's major revenue sources], they were chiefly responsible for the upswing in the company's fortunes."

Cusk would be worth studying not only for the way she handles dialogue but also for the apparent precision of her descriptions:

"She was a tiny, sinewy woman with a childlike body and a large, bony, sagacious face in which the big, heavy-lidded eyes had an almost reptilian patience, occasionally slowly blinking. She had attended my event this afternoon, she added, and had been struck as she often was the the inferiority of these occasion to the work that was their subject, which seemed to be circling with increasing aimlessness and never penetrated. We get to walk in the grounds, she said, but we never enter the building."

Kudos is not a long book, less than 55,000 words. But the words are so well chosen, the sentences so well constructed (look at the two samples above), and the thoughts expressed so interesting that it is worth reading repeatedly. As Ruth Franklin wrote in The Atlantic, "In her effort to expose the illusions of both fiction and life, [Cusk] may have discovered the most genuine way to write a novel today." I am not sure I would go that far, but Cusk is certainly original and exhilarating.