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Pickle Me This

March 28, 2008

On the attack

I read Rachel Cusk’s memoir A Life’s Work this week, after reading this piece on its reception. How curious the way some people read– I cannot fathom. To have your judgment on a work come down to whether or not your liked its characters, for example. Which is even more ridiculous in the case of fiction, but strikes me as dangerous all the time. To read a memoir is not to stage a character assessment. Maybe I just don’t read enough books that are enraging so I can’t understand why you’d write a letter to an author that read “Frankly, you are a self-obsessed bore: the embodiment of the Me! Me! Me! attitude which you so resent in small children.”

It seems that some people so ready to judge are incapable of grasping any point of some complexity. It isn’t even ambivalent, Cusk’s portrayal of motherhood, but something richer, truer in its depth. And then that she is accused of coldness, of being unloving, all the while love shines through in every word. When she writes, “I realise… that the crying has stopped, that she has survived the first pain of existence and out of it wrought herself. And she has wrought me, too, because although I have not helped or understood, I have been there all along and this, I suddenly and certainly know, is motherhood; this mere sufficiency, this presence.”

It is interesting also, “self-obsession” being knocked about when it was the very point of the exercise. I’ve also just read Diane Schoemperlen’s At a Loss for Words, which could probably pick up some of the same criticism. But what you miss, I think, reading on the attack. People’s capacities to miss the point are quite remarkable.

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