Old gender Frontlines endure in Todays Suburbs: Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk

This novel was suggested to me by my PhD supervisor as I began my research in to the impact social media is having on experiences of motherhood. The women and mothers in this novel don’t make use of social media, nor does their author to communicate who they are so it wasn’t for that that my supervisor suggested the book. Rather it was for its precise anatomy of the struggles of women with the daily divided tertories of men and women’s work. they way Cusk describes lives where the politics of gender should be alive, kicking and screaming – but isn’t. These women are bright, intelligent but most exist as if feminism hasn’t happened. As if The Feminine Mystic, Female Eunuch, A Room of One’s Own and the many other conscious raising tracts of the politics of sexual inequality hadn’t happened nor the movements they inspired. Cusk and her characters are dissatisfied in their housework and child rearing duties and wonder what’s changed for women now compared to the past. Certainly not much as far as they see. Some accept this as the way of things. Some find it less easy to stomach. But what to do? Crop your hair the only answer one woman comes up with. Cusk relies on a conventional third person narration to detail the thought, dreams and actions of her characters with a genome scientists precision. The shopping trips, school runs, neighbourly dinner invitations that make up their seemingly similar suburban lives  in desirable  Arlington Park the landscape in which they must thrive or sink. As we move over the lives of these characters Cusk gives us a wide tracking shot of their lives, intercut with well place close ups – but she keeps us at a distance and at times I found myself reading on as a matter of duty rather than desire. I think the distancing effect of her writing is due it part to its eloquence. Dare I say over eloquence? Although I admire and enjoyed her prose the impact of the characters lives feels backgrounded as a consequence of Cusk’s prose style somehow. Cusk writes with acuity and if you are a wife and/or mother it is likely you will find something to recognise in these pages. But don’t expect any solutions to the problems of domestic life it raises.

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