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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book, A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother is multi-award-winning author Rachel Cusk's honest memoir that captures the life-changing wonders of motherhood. Selected by the New York Times as one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years The experience of motherhood is an experience in contradiction. It is commonplace and it is impossible A New York Times Book Review Notable Book, A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother is multi-award-winning author Rachel Cusk's honest memoir that captures the life-changing wonders of motherhood. Selected by the New York Times as one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years The experience of motherhood is an experience in contradiction. It is commonplace and it is impossible to imagine. It is prosaic and it is mysterious. It is at once banal, bizarre, compelling, tedious, comic, and catastrophic. To become a mother is to become the chief actor in a drama of human existence to which no one turns up. It is the process by which an ordinary life is transformed unseen into a story of strange and powerful passions, of love and servitude, of confinement and compassion. In a book that is touching, hilarious, provocative, and profoundly insightful, novelist Rachel Cusk attempts to tell something of an old story set in a new era of sexual equality. Cusk's account of a year of modern motherhood becomes many stories: a farewell to freedom, sleep, and time; a lesson in humility and hard work; a journey to the roots of love; a meditation on madness and mortality; and most of all a sentimental education in babies, books, toddler groups, bad advice, crying, breastfeeding, and never being alone. "Funny and smart and refreshingly akin to a war diary--sort of Apocalypse Baby Now...A Life's Work is wholly original and unabashedly true."--The New York Times Book Review


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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book, A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother is multi-award-winning author Rachel Cusk's honest memoir that captures the life-changing wonders of motherhood. Selected by the New York Times as one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years The experience of motherhood is an experience in contradiction. It is commonplace and it is impossible A New York Times Book Review Notable Book, A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother is multi-award-winning author Rachel Cusk's honest memoir that captures the life-changing wonders of motherhood. Selected by the New York Times as one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years The experience of motherhood is an experience in contradiction. It is commonplace and it is impossible to imagine. It is prosaic and it is mysterious. It is at once banal, bizarre, compelling, tedious, comic, and catastrophic. To become a mother is to become the chief actor in a drama of human existence to which no one turns up. It is the process by which an ordinary life is transformed unseen into a story of strange and powerful passions, of love and servitude, of confinement and compassion. In a book that is touching, hilarious, provocative, and profoundly insightful, novelist Rachel Cusk attempts to tell something of an old story set in a new era of sexual equality. Cusk's account of a year of modern motherhood becomes many stories: a farewell to freedom, sleep, and time; a lesson in humility and hard work; a journey to the roots of love; a meditation on madness and mortality; and most of all a sentimental education in babies, books, toddler groups, bad advice, crying, breastfeeding, and never being alone. "Funny and smart and refreshingly akin to a war diary--sort of Apocalypse Baby Now...A Life's Work is wholly original and unabashedly true."--The New York Times Book Review

30 review for A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    This work was initially published in 2002, and fifteen years later we learn that it had a rocky reception. Womenkind may indeed be split into two irreconcilable halves because I have no idea what could incense people about this book: I laughed through it, and when I wasn’t laughing, I was marking her passages to relate later, so clearly did they capture the ambiguity we feel between love and distress at being so loved and/or needed ourselves. This memoir of the circumstance surrounding the conce This work was initially published in 2002, and fifteen years later we learn that it had a rocky reception. Womenkind may indeed be split into two irreconcilable halves because I have no idea what could incense people about this book: I laughed through it, and when I wasn’t laughing, I was marking her passages to relate later, so clearly did they capture the ambiguity we feel between love and distress at being so loved and/or needed ourselves. This memoir of the circumstance surrounding the conception, birth, and first years of a child’s life is really a tight series of essays. Cusk manages to capture moments that illuminate the despair mothers can feel when they discover the true disorientation that comes with bringing the baby home—feelings like cotton wool has supplanted one’s brain and that one cannot find the wherewithal to make a plan—the whole exhaustion of it. No one really prepared her for the sense of having one’s life hijacked—she admits she’d jumped right over references to children or infants in the writing of those she’d enjoyed before. The children part wasn’t relevant and didn’t matter—a little like me when as a teen I skipped the foreign names in any book I read. I would note the first letter of the name and gauge the length of the word by blurring my eyes. I could distinguish individuals by something distinctive the author had shared about them, so why even bother to learn to pronounce their names? Cusk’s own story is different than everyone else’s: her daughter “sucks well,” sucking for hours at a time, giving her a short break before starting up again. The nurses she consulted all considered this to be good news, generously praising mother and child for being able to move onto the next phase, bottle-feeding, whenever she had spare hours to sterilize the equipment and make up the formula—or pump and freeze her own milk to put in sterilized bottles. With motherhood, Cusk has discovered her presence “has accrued a material value, as if I had been fitted with a taxi meter.” There was never any slack, no “lubricant empty hours” in which nothing is planned or paid for. When interviewing babysitters, sometimes she might find herself giving overly-detailed instructions about every aspect of her daughter’s care, as though the caregiver could in some way understand “what it was like to be me.” A very funny but telling paragraph or two is given over to describing a scene she happened upon one night on a television documentary in which a pampered American housewife admits she would prefer her child get less attention from her South American nanny rather than have the nanny care for the American children as though they were her own: “I’m like, you know, put her down, she knows how to sit in the hot tub!” A hot tub. A baby. Towards the end of this memoir is a chapter entitled “Don’t Forget to Scream!” about the family’s move to a university town. Mother appears to miss her London life in the way she had missed it when she had the baby. The baby is a toddler now, and when invited to the local play group housed in a church hall, she is manhandled by the other children. Mother could see that successful mothering ventures contained a measure of military organization: “…conscription to the world of orthodox parenthood demands all the self-abnegation, the surrender to conformity, the relish for the institutional, that the term implies…Here the restaurants had high chairs and changing facilities, the buses wide doors and recesses for prams.” The chaos of living among those outside the …hood cannot be found here in the privileged, patriarchal enclave of the university town where everyone asks, “What does your husband do?” Cusk is out of step, gloriously, and can tell us what we look like, those of us who haven’t stepped back long enough to think about it. The mothers in the university town are older than she is—far older, some grey-haired and pregnant-bellied. This societal change she notes casually but is an observation that should make us sit up and think. Practically everything she says makes me think, which is why I think any one of these chapters would work well as essays—a short sharp strike across the noggin. The language she employs to describe a year of sleeplessness recalls young men on the front lines in war. “The muddled nights began to attain an insomniac clarity. My insides grew gritty, my nerves sharp…I no longer slept in the intervals, but merely rested silently like some legendary figure, itinerant, doughty and far from home. The reservoir of sleep I had accumulated through my life had run dry. I was living off air and adrenalin. Mercury ran through my veins." What can I say? She makes me laugh, she makes me think. Her writing electrifies me. Reading Cusk novels and memoirs back to back is pure indulgence.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Cristiani

    Since becoming a mother I have read countless memoirs of motherhood. Some are funny, some are literary, some are candid. Pretty much all of them are trite. I have read some that I loved, but never one I could relate to closely. This, finally, is that book. Rachel Cusk explains in her introduction that they moved out of London and her husband took care of their children while she wrote this book. To her and her husband I say, every minute of that time was worth this product. Cusk manages to descr Since becoming a mother I have read countless memoirs of motherhood. Some are funny, some are literary, some are candid. Pretty much all of them are trite. I have read some that I loved, but never one I could relate to closely. This, finally, is that book. Rachel Cusk explains in her introduction that they moved out of London and her husband took care of their children while she wrote this book. To her and her husband I say, every minute of that time was worth this product. Cusk manages to describe her foray into motherhood as something mostly unpleasant (which it actually really is) peppered with good things (which it also is). She explains how pregnancy was a prison sentence, childbirth was anticlimactic, colic and sleepless nights were mindnumbing, breastfeeding was overrated, and caring for a baby is tedious. She does all this without ever having to explain, as most mothers and mother-authors do, that she still loves her baby!!! That it was all worth it!!! No, she doesn't have to say these things. In fact, she says she thinks most people, if they knew what having kids was really like, wouldn't choose to have them at all. She manages to tell this story without sounding, ever, like she dislikes her children, or resents them, or pities herself. It is the culture we've created, around pregnancy and motherhood and parenting, that she seems to rail against. The mothers around her seem like walking handbooks, unable to tell their own truths because they have already been told for them. She longs to tell her friends she finds nothing good about her new situation as mother, and yet 2 pages later says she misses her daughter's baby years. She is tortured by remnants of her previous, childless self, yet can't bear to leave her daughter with anyone else. This pretty much sums it up. I love this, a sample of her unapologetic honesty: "To be a mother I must leave the telephone unanswered, work undone, arrangements unmet. To be myself I must let the baby cry, must forestall her hunger or leave her for evenings out, must forget her in order to think about other things. To succeed in being one means to fail at being the other...I never feel myself to have progressed beyond this division. I merely learn to legislate for two states, and to secure the border between them." Thanks Rachel Cusk, really. It was so very nice to hear someone say it the way it is, instead of the way it ought to be.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ginny Pennekamp

    The truth is, it's rough having a baby. I love him -- but regardless of how I love him, and no matter how much people say your love for him will make it so you love doing laundry, changing dirty diapers and pacing the floor at night -- I HATE doing laundry, changing dirty diapers and pacing the floor at night. I hate that I do those things 90% of the time I'm awake, and gone gone gone are my moments to sleep or to read or to enjoy television or eat dinner without someone screaming and putting th The truth is, it's rough having a baby. I love him -- but regardless of how I love him, and no matter how much people say your love for him will make it so you love doing laundry, changing dirty diapers and pacing the floor at night -- I HATE doing laundry, changing dirty diapers and pacing the floor at night. I hate that I do those things 90% of the time I'm awake, and gone gone gone are my moments to sleep or to read or to enjoy television or eat dinner without someone screaming and putting their fingers in my mouth... And what's made it all worse is that it's totally taboo in our society so say any of these things, even to your husband, without being labeled "depressed" or "strange." This was a great book because Rachel helped tell the story the way I've experienced it, and to explain exactly why these feelings DO NOT mean I'm depressed or strange. I'm not a different person. I just had a child. Now I'm split in two, and that other part of me that I knew so well is smaller and smaller and it's hard to adjust. Reading what she had to say made me feel normal again, and I highly recommend it to any mother who is having trouble making the transition.

  4. 5 out of 5

    G.G.

    Recently a much younger friend had a baby and—not having had any luck myself—I decided to read Rachel Cusk’s memoir to find out what that “apparently normal and yet entirely unintelligible experience” might be like. From the first page of the Introduction I was hooked: Cusk’s is an acutely observed account of her passage through pregnancy, childbirth, and the first year of her daughter’s life. Cusk’s ability to find words to express her experiences is impressive: One evening, sitting outside in t Recently a much younger friend had a baby and—not having had any luck myself—I decided to read Rachel Cusk’s memoir to find out what that “apparently normal and yet entirely unintelligible experience” might be like. From the first page of the Introduction I was hooked: Cusk’s is an acutely observed account of her passage through pregnancy, childbirth, and the first year of her daughter’s life. Cusk’s ability to find words to express her experiences is impressive: One evening, sitting outside in the garden in the dusk, I realise that three months have passed and that summer has come. My daughter is lying on a rug looking at the leaves above her. She wriggles and kicks her legs and laughs at things that I can’t see. […] I see that she has become somebody. I realise, too, 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. […] All that is required is for me to be there; an ‘all’ that is of course everything, because being there involves not being anywhere else, being ready to drop everything. She notices that “my desire for her sufficiency is in fact my own, my own desire to be sufficient to another”. As Cusk’s daughter enters her second year and “finally we are able to converse, I find her decided, fully formed, already beyond the reach of persuasion.” Cusk is also very good on mothers in literature. One example: As a sequel to youth, beauty or independence, motherhood promises from its first page to be a longer and more difficult volume: the story of how Tolstoy’s Natasha turned from a trilling, beribboned heartbreaker into inscrutable matriarch, of how daughters become parents and heroines implacable opponents of the romantic plot. Tolstoy did not write this volume. Instead he wrote Anna Karenina, excavating the woman extant in the mother and demonstrating her power to destroy, for motherhood is a career in conformity from which no amount of subterfuge can liberate the soul without violence…. There are illuminating discussions of (among others) Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune, and Coleridge’s beautiful “Frost At Midnight”, in which the poet finds that “Parenthood is redemptive, transformative, creative. It is the means by which the self’s limits are broken open and entrance found to a greater landscape.” Other reviews have emphasised Cusk's frank descriptions of always-on breast-feeding and relentless sleep-deprivation; but happily there is much more to her memoir than this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joachim Stoop

    A well written drag of a book. I know I'm no woman, nor am I to be a mother, but I read this in two days that felt like nine months ;-) Ok, that's a bit harsh. I didn't give it 3 stars for nothing. I did like some of the phrasing, but in general it was too grotesque, too claustrophobic, too off putting. ''Increasingly, motherhood comes to seem to me not a condition but a job, the work of certain periods, which begin and end and outside of which I am free. My daughter is more and more a part of thi A well written drag of a book. I know I'm no woman, nor am I to be a mother, but I read this in two days that felt like nine months ;-) Ok, that's a bit harsh. I didn't give it 3 stars for nothing. I did like some of the phrasing, but in general it was too grotesque, too claustrophobic, too off putting. ''Increasingly, motherhood comes to seem to me not a condition but a job, the work of certain periods, which begin and end and outside of which I am free. My daughter is more and more a part of this freedom, something new that is being added, drop by daily drop, to the sum of what I am. We are an admixture, an experiment. I don’t yet know what effect her presence will have on my life, but its claim is more profound, more unnerving than was the mere work of looking after her. For the first year of her life work and love were bound together, painfully.'

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jayne Charles

    There are so many 'celebrity baby books' out there, none of which I would touch with a barge pole, with their soft-focus vomit-inducing coochie-coochie-coo. I don't even fancy those matey ones that slap their thighs, wink and hoot 'What am I like....' whilst recounting a string of sanitised 'parenting fail' moments. This is different. This one looks you in the eye with a dangerously frank expression and says 'no, I really am crap at parenting'. Clearly pregnancy did not addle Ms Cusk's brain. I w There are so many 'celebrity baby books' out there, none of which I would touch with a barge pole, with their soft-focus vomit-inducing coochie-coochie-coo. I don't even fancy those matey ones that slap their thighs, wink and hoot 'What am I like....' whilst recounting a string of sanitised 'parenting fail' moments. This is different. This one looks you in the eye with a dangerously frank expression and says 'no, I really am crap at parenting'. Clearly pregnancy did not addle Ms Cusk's brain. I was reaching for my dictionary by page 2 (would not have expected anything less, having read much of her excellent fiction). It is intelligent, incisive, thoughr provoking. It dares to say things other books don't, and there were many sections that struck a chord with me, notably the description of a caesarean, and the worry afterwards: "...in truth my experience of birth was more like the experience of having an appendix removed than what most people would understand by 'labour'. Without its connecting hours, the glue of its pain, the literalness of its passage, I fear that I will not make it to motherhood.' Some sections are conventionally amusing, such as the scene at the breastfeeding clinic, or the tale of being wrong-footed by a toddler group clique. And she is disparaging about almost all the health professionals she encounters: "A health visitor came to see us in our embattled kitchen. She produced sheaves of leaflets and laid each one lovingly on the table for me to study while behind her the baby looted her handbag, undetected'. There is perhaps a sniffy air about the narrative that might put some readers off. What comes across at times is a highly intellectual woman in a situation where intellect has little or no bearing. It confers no special status. Women with lower IQs might well be better at it. Probably not intentional. There is a type of mum she is addressing, though: the ones who, like her, don't identify with the eareth mothers they read about in books, or feel cheated by the homogenity of the 'propaganda' handed out by midwives. Her assessment of 'Emma's Diary', which I was also given on an antenatal visit and which still sits on my bookshelf, was savagely amusing. To admit you sympathise, or even agree with her observations is to place yourself outside the Sisterhood, but I guess there are people out there who will, and I count myself among their number. I knew the book was controversial. That was part of the attraction for me. There is a brave honesty in many of the events and feelings she recounts. Many will not approve. But I think if there is a cause for concern in there it is the striking similarity between the narrative tone of this, and the voice of Eva in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'. Now that really is a scary thought.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This is the most beautiful and the most honest book about pregnancy and motherhood that I have read. At nearly every pass I found myself saying, "Yes, exactly, that's it precisely." Cusk describes the condition and the character of motherhood with candor and vision and clarity; it's like reading some long-forgotten Virginia Woolf novel, with every predicament of motherhood more carefully revealed than you would have thought possible, and those moments presented with such immediacy and such a sen This is the most beautiful and the most honest book about pregnancy and motherhood that I have read. At nearly every pass I found myself saying, "Yes, exactly, that's it precisely." Cusk describes the condition and the character of motherhood with candor and vision and clarity; it's like reading some long-forgotten Virginia Woolf novel, with every predicament of motherhood more carefully revealed than you would have thought possible, and those moments presented with such immediacy and such a sense of tone that it's difficult to imagine Cusk writing outside of the moment itself. Though her work testifies to the extraordinary challenges to identity motherhood poses, she seems a writer of total confidence and bravery. She brings her considerable mind to bear on all of the modern trappings of parenthood: breastfeeding, mom-and-baby groups, work, the fuzzy area of domestic partnership, sleep training, etc. I just wish she had written more about her c-section, if only because hearing her thoughts on the horribly perfunctory matter of medicalised birth might have made me feel better about my own c/s. But that's the effect of this work; what goes unremarked seems a shame and a loss. You'd like to have this voice return for the preschool years and beyond.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lee Kofman

    This is such a quirky memoir. I’m starting to think maybe it’s an English thing, to be terribly quirky, but then every good English writer I read reinvents quirkiness anew (and still I can sense some shared sensibility amongst them). My own experience of motherhood is very different from that of Cusk, but I didn’t read this book to get validation for my own life or not even so much to think more about motherhood. This book looks so strangely at the familiar that it could have been written about This is such a quirky memoir. I’m starting to think maybe it’s an English thing, to be terribly quirky, but then every good English writer I read reinvents quirkiness anew (and still I can sense some shared sensibility amongst them). My own experience of motherhood is very different from that of Cusk, but I didn’t read this book to get validation for my own life or not even so much to think more about motherhood. This book looks so strangely at the familiar that it could have been written about anything really and be just as worth reading. I read it to learn about freshness of point of view… Cusk is a true intellectual in the best sense of this word.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    “To be a mother I must leave the telephone unanswered, work undone, arrangements unmet. To be myself I must let the baby cry, must forestall her hunger or leave her for evenings out, must forget her in order to think about other things. To succeed in being one means to fail at being the other.” A deeply melancholy and yet beautifully written account of early motherhood. Cusk hates being a mother and fails to find anything joyful or redemptive in the vocation. There is an element of bravery to the “To be a mother I must leave the telephone unanswered, work undone, arrangements unmet. To be myself I must let the baby cry, must forestall her hunger or leave her for evenings out, must forget her in order to think about other things. To succeed in being one means to fail at being the other.” A deeply melancholy and yet beautifully written account of early motherhood. Cusk hates being a mother and fails to find anything joyful or redemptive in the vocation. There is an element of bravery to the book, I suppose, to witness Cusk saying such dark things that many mothers probably feel but never admit. But I found myself, as a non-mother, frequently thinking of Cusk’s real daughter and what she would feel were she to read this book: How wounding to hear your mother tell the world that you caused her a lifetime of rage and suffering; that she saw you as her prison warden, as a bodysnatcher; that you only brought her grief and angst. I don’t fault Cusk for sharing so honestly. But I did feel a rising measure of sympathy for her actual child. And I’m not sure who this book is for: It seems inadvisable to give it to a new mother, who could be battling postpartum depression (which this book would just confirm and nearly encourage), and it also seems inadvisable to share it with an expectant mother, for whom it would read as a damning warning of the hellscape that awaits. Rather unsure what to think about this one. It’s gloomy and scary; it makes your heart hurt for Cusk’s raw, depressive state and makes you want to look up the number of a London therapist to send her immediately.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    At times I really liked the writing in this book, but on the whole, I much prefer Cusk's fiction. There's an unrelenting whininess to the book, in spite of the fantastic sentences. My memories of pregnancy and the first year with both of my sons are so utterly different from Cusk's. Even her deep sense of connection with her new daughter feels overwrought, well actually, it, too, feels downright whiny. I kept reading because the sentences truly are dazzling. Here's an example: "Feeding, I tell t At times I really liked the writing in this book, but on the whole, I much prefer Cusk's fiction. There's an unrelenting whininess to the book, in spite of the fantastic sentences. My memories of pregnancy and the first year with both of my sons are so utterly different from Cusk's. Even her deep sense of connection with her new daughter feels overwrought, well actually, it, too, feels downright whiny. I kept reading because the sentences truly are dazzling. Here's an example: "Feeding, I tell the baby, is not a substitute for living. Feeding is an overloaded socket that is growing hot and dangerous, as every day the voltage passing through it increase. In spite of all this, her weight gain is slow. It does indeed seem impossible to overfeed a breastfed baby. I have indeed tried. I try to see things from her point of view. Every time she cries, nmy breasts appear like prison warders investigating a disturbance, two dumb, moonfaced henchmen, closing in on her, silencing her, administering opiates." I also have a problem with the fact that she rarely mentions the father of this baby, who at the time was her husband. In fact, they move out of London...guess what...she complains about her new neighborhood, too. And she neglects to tell us that her husband gives up his job and takes care of both young daughters (there are now two), so that she can write the book. This woman needs to keep a gratitude journal.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shanta

    Drawn by its subversive sepia cover, I plucked this memoir off a bookstore shelf during pregnancy because frankly, all the pink books with pictures of smiling mothers and babies were enough to provoke the baby blues before even giving birth! Cusk’s two young daughters are rolled into one anonymous being to protect their privacy in the book, in which Cusk recounts personal anecdotes of new motherhood in glorious detail. Rachel Cusk’s story lived up to its cover promise of being ‘as compulsive as Drawn by its subversive sepia cover, I plucked this memoir off a bookstore shelf during pregnancy because frankly, all the pink books with pictures of smiling mothers and babies were enough to provoke the baby blues before even giving birth! Cusk’s two young daughters are rolled into one anonymous being to protect their privacy in the book, in which Cusk recounts personal anecdotes of new motherhood in glorious detail. Rachel Cusk’s story lived up to its cover promise of being ‘as compulsive as a thriller’. At the time, I had no idea that this book was seen as controversial and I still don’t understand why. Here is a woman telling her truth, which happens to be that she found certain aspects of motherhood painful. Critics questioned why she had children if she thinks it’s so appalling, which is a ridiculous thing to say on so many levels. Firstly, you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for until you get there and secondly, you can deeply love your child and be a good parent while acknowledging that some aspects of parenting are difficult. In fact, that’s probably a healthy attitude. In my opinion, Cusk is brave and honest and makes new parents feel like they are not alone when they are struggling. For the chapter on colic alone the woman deserves an OBE for services to parentkind.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ynna

    My favorite Rachel Cusk! This was a poignant portrait of motherhood, unafraid to reveal its ugliness. Cusk confirmed what I've always imagined motherhood to be- maddening and exhausting and a constant surprise at what the female body can endure and the love it can feel and give. There was a passage about rediscovering books as the author began reading out loud to her daughter. This is a practice I have always looked forward to and reading Cusk's words about revisiting her favorite novels moved me My favorite Rachel Cusk! This was a poignant portrait of motherhood, unafraid to reveal its ugliness. Cusk confirmed what I've always imagined motherhood to be- maddening and exhausting and a constant surprise at what the female body can endure and the love it can feel and give. There was a passage about rediscovering books as the author began reading out loud to her daughter. This is a practice I have always looked forward to and reading Cusk's words about revisiting her favorite novels moved me to tears. There is so much fear I associate with motherhood and an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. Reading this illustrated a new joy I had never considered and now wholeheartedly anticipate: I begin to relive at high speed my own evolution towards language, towards stories. Reading books to my daughter revives my appetite for expression. Like someone visiting old haunts after an absence I read books that I have read before, books that I love, and when I do I find them changed: they give the impression of having contained all along everything that I have gone away to learn. I begin to find them everywhere, in pages that I thought familiar: prophecies of what was to come, pictures of the very place in which I now stand, and yet which I look on with no spark of recognition. I wonder how I could have read so much and learned so little. I have stared at these words like pots and pans, the hoarded gold of previous civilisations, immured in museum glass. Could it be true that one has to experience in order to understand? I have always denied this idea, and yet of motherhood, for me at least, it seems to be the case. I read as if I were reading letters from the dead, letters addressed to me but long unopened; as if by reading I were bringing back the vanished past, living it again as I would like to live every day of my life again, perfectly and without misunderstanding.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    This book was my first glimpse into the fact that we as mothers can be honest with one another about how HARD it is to be someone's mom. Many books out there are guilt inducing and unrealistic about motherhood. After I read Cusk's book, I tried to be more honest with myself and my friends about my experiences: I asked for help when I needed it, I admitted it when I was having a horrible day with the kids, I allowed myself to grieve over everything I had lost for those years when the kids took up This book was my first glimpse into the fact that we as mothers can be honest with one another about how HARD it is to be someone's mom. Many books out there are guilt inducing and unrealistic about motherhood. After I read Cusk's book, I tried to be more honest with myself and my friends about my experiences: I asked for help when I needed it, I admitted it when I was having a horrible day with the kids, I allowed myself to grieve over everything I had lost for those years when the kids took up almost all of my energy. Cusk gave me permission to be real about it all and I was grateful.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Annikky

    I find the initial reactions to this book (when published in 2002) seriously puzzling. Journalists who called Cusk an unfitting or unloving mother have either completely misunderstood the book or completely misunderstood the nature of motherhood. Possibly both. I can confirm that being a mother is not a state of unending bliss; perhaps there are mothers for whom love is always absolute and undisturbed by other feelings, but I don't know them. If a woman with a complex inner life is going to writ I find the initial reactions to this book (when published in 2002) seriously puzzling. Journalists who called Cusk an unfitting or unloving mother have either completely misunderstood the book or completely misunderstood the nature of motherhood. Possibly both. I can confirm that being a mother is not a state of unending bliss; perhaps there are mothers for whom love is always absolute and undisturbed by other feelings, but I don't know them. If a woman with a complex inner life is going to write about motherhood, the result is inevitably going to be complex too. I hope that the reaction to A Life's Work would be different today, but who knows. Any ambiguity on this topic still seems to generate outrage or at least ill-concealed disapproval. I must say, though, that I am also puzzled by those who gush how beautiful Cusk's writing is in this book. Sure, she writes very well and there are passages that I might classify as 'beautiful' in a traditional sense. But beauty is not, in my view, a central feature of her style. She is often at her most effective when she is slightly awkward, sometimes there is a curious, perhaps mocking formality to her words. She is aloof, self-absorbed, suspicious of convention, suspicious of everything, really. So one doesn't go to Cusk - or at least I don't - for beauty. To me, Cusk is about the voice, the mood. It's not that I want to be like her or want to see the world as she does or that I love everything she writes, but I find it somehow extremely comforting that her way of being in the world exists, that it's possible to be a woman like her. This is, I assume, also why I prefer her non-fiction to her fiction: it is not the stories she creates that I'm interested in, it's herself.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I read newspaper reports of women in America being prosecuted for harming their unborn foetuses and wonder how this can be; how the body can become a public space, like a telephone box, that can unlawfully vandalise itself. It is my fear of authority, of conformity, that is pricked by such stories. I am someone who has always dreaded the discovery and announcement of my shortcomings. Now it is as if some spy is embedded within me, before whose scrutiny I am guilty and self-conscious. It is no I read newspaper reports of women in America being prosecuted for harming their unborn foetuses and wonder how this can be; how the body can become a public space, like a telephone box, that can unlawfully vandalise itself. It is my fear of authority, of conformity, that is pricked by such stories. I am someone who has always dreaded the discovery and announcement of my shortcomings. Now it is as if some spy is embedded within me, before whose scrutiny I am guilty and self-conscious. It is not, I feel sure, the baby who exerts this watchful pressure: it is the baby’s meaning for other people, the world’s sense of ownership stating its claim. The book about pregnancy and becoming a mother that I never knew I needed - brilliant in every way.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Rachel Cusk writes beautifully and her viewpoint is one I generally agree with. I also have a lot of sympathy for her, it seems like she went through some major post-partum depression. I was so sure I would I have post-partum depression after my I had my son, but for some reason I didn't (perhaps just the joy of not being pregnant?). This book reminds me how important it is for people to have access to mental health services and screening during this time, I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Rachel Cusk writes beautifully and her viewpoint is one I generally agree with. I also have a lot of sympathy for her, it seems like she went through some major post-partum depression. I was so sure I would I have post-partum depression after my I had my son, but for some reason I didn't (perhaps just the joy of not being pregnant?). This book reminds me how important it is for people to have access to mental health services and screening during this time, which can be such a fragile one. Her horror at the horror of motherhood can be very funny... there were several laugh out loud moments and I also really enjoyed the brief mentions of motherhood and children in classic literature. But overall, this book felt very unreal to me, which was I think, due to the lack of concrete details. It isn't really a memoir, more a journal of emotions during a difficult time. Yet, despite that, the overall feeling of disconnection makes the emotions hard to empathize with. Also, I recently read an essay by Rachel Cusk in Granta and it contained the same kind of beautifully written whining. It was also about a very difficult time in her life, in this case the aftermath of her divorce. It seems to me these books/essays are important for her as a way to deal with emotion, but I'm not sure I need to read them.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Sullivan

    Though there are many incisive truths about new motherhood in these essays, Cusk is so cerebral that at times I felt disconnected while reading this. I’m sure I would have had a difference experiences if I weren’t in the throes of new motherhood myself at the moment; perhaps someday I’ll be ready to approach this season of my life with a more analytical eye. Props to Cusk for her lovely writing and some unforgettable quotes, like this one, which I think about every single day since reading it: “O Though there are many incisive truths about new motherhood in these essays, Cusk is so cerebral that at times I felt disconnected while reading this. I’m sure I would have had a difference experiences if I weren’t in the throes of new motherhood myself at the moment; perhaps someday I’ll be ready to approach this season of my life with a more analytical eye. Props to Cusk for her lovely writing and some unforgettable quotes, like this one, which I think about every single day since reading it: “Oh dear, they say. Poor baby. They do not mean me.”

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    'And though I know it is the hardest work I have ever done I still worry that my execution of it has been somehow flawed and inauthentic, a burned offering, a botched canvas' I have a lot of complicated feelings about motherhood that I can't articulate. I felt like this book did it for me in much more beautiful prose than I would be capable of. I felt seen. 'And though I know it is the hardest work I have ever done I still worry that my execution of it has been somehow flawed and inauthentic, a burned offering, a botched canvas' I have a lot of complicated feelings about motherhood that I can't articulate. I felt like this book did it for me in much more beautiful prose than I would be capable of. I felt seen.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    Who's cutting the onions? This was recommended to me by the Mom Rage podcast and I'm so glad I read it. It's not the type of book that would normally be on my radar. It's an honest, sentimental but not maudlin series of essays about motherhood. It describes the conflicting emotions between wanting time for yourself, but also wanting to spend quality time with your kids in a way that I've never seen put to paper before. Who's cutting the onions? This was recommended to me by the Mom Rage podcast and I'm so glad I read it. It's not the type of book that would normally be on my radar. It's an honest, sentimental but not maudlin series of essays about motherhood. It describes the conflicting emotions between wanting time for yourself, but also wanting to spend quality time with your kids in a way that I've never seen put to paper before.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jen Crichton

    I remember my children's babyhoods clearly and with sentiment but not great sentimentality. I found my first child's babyhood so difficult that I had my next child 18 months later in order to get all the baby stuff over and done with in one fell swoop. Rachel Cusk writes beautifully and precisely but presents the most unrelentingly negative vision of motherhood I have ever read. It's as though all my difficult moments as a mother of babies were condensed into two hundred pages with none of the m I remember my children's babyhoods clearly and with sentiment but not great sentimentality. I found my first child's babyhood so difficult that I had my next child 18 months later in order to get all the baby stuff over and done with in one fell swoop. Rachel Cusk writes beautifully and precisely but presents the most unrelentingly negative vision of motherhood I have ever read. It's as though all my difficult moments as a mother of babies were condensed into two hundred pages with none of the moments of humor, joy, sensual pleasure of being alive with these little beings clinging to my head and limbs and other appendages, aesthetic pleasure of drinking in the beauty of these demanding little beings. She reaches for the most negative and extreme metaphors: her just crawling daughter resembles an escaped zoo animal, for instance, and not in a good way. As a woman she seems incredibly trapped within herself, disconnected from everyone else. She lives with the baby's father yet takes no pleasure in his company, and describes men caring for children on Saturday mornings with emasculating images. She even finds fault with the thick white arms of the too sexless women who ride their bicycles down her road. What a crab! What a great writer! What a dreadful person to be trapped inside of! Glad to be done with this book. I feel like one of those bicyclists with the thick arms breezing by her house disapprovingly. "She's always so sour. I'll go visit my cheerful friend Penelope instead." Brave though it was of Cusk to write this, to capture the seismic shift from unfettered woman of the world to trapped prisoner of a baby and her needs, she has stepped into her enclosed room of a life with her baby, then with her strength of mind slammed and locked herself in, taking the reader with her. And am now glad to be out, never going back!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Chelsia

    Ways in which child birth shapes a woman's life are unpredictable, alarming and life changing at times. I remember my best friend who always neatly painted her toe nails to match her clothes, always went for a evening walk and baked gorgeous cinnamon buns once a week. Alas, now she clips her toe and finger nails everyday, carries this huge baby bag which has the whole planet in it and mumbles just a hi or hello once in two months to people she once spoke to for hours together . Cusk's motherhood d Ways in which child birth shapes a woman's life are unpredictable, alarming and life changing at times. I remember my best friend who always neatly painted her toe nails to match her clothes, always went for a evening walk and baked gorgeous cinnamon buns once a week. Alas, now she clips her toe and finger nails everyday, carries this huge baby bag which has the whole planet in it and mumbles just a hi or hello once in two months to people she once spoke to for hours together . Cusk's motherhood doesnt dip you in fancy words of how blessed she's or how she can relentlessly stare at her baby. cusk speaks of motherhood critically, raw and it is very real. she doesn't paint this picture where exists an ideal woman who enjoys every second of motherhood, instead she gnaws you with her vulnerabilities and her struggle to not dissolve her past self . her insecurities as a mother are interspread between joy at times and searing sadness at the other times. she relentlessly aches for her past freedoms, may be a bask in the winter sun or to read an entire book without interuptions . cusk is a glorious writer, her words feels like the first rains after a decade of drought, painting your toe nails on warm summer day, stirring a creamy cappuccino or may be soaking your feet in ice cold water. . What do i tell?. She made me feel my lack of maternal insticts is not unprecedented in the history of World. she finally made me realise Im no less of a woman, just because i don't want to be a mother! Dear Rachel, if i may call you by first name basis? thank you for writing this, i learnt, motherhood is truly a life's work! . Tell me books you love on motherhood?

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ayelet Waldman

    The writing is beautiful, the book is totally me, and I loved every minute of it. I was screaming, "Amen! Amen!" until right near the end. And then she lost me. She can't leave the house for more than an hour without calling to make sure the baby is okay? Oy. That's the guilt talking, sweetie. If you weren't feeling so awful about your ambivalence, you'd be fine about leaving. Just go! The writing is beautiful, the book is totally me, and I loved every minute of it. I was screaming, "Amen! Amen!" until right near the end. And then she lost me. She can't leave the house for more than an hour without calling to make sure the baby is okay? Oy. That's the guilt talking, sweetie. If you weren't feeling so awful about your ambivalence, you'd be fine about leaving. Just go!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eggwit

    Good in terms of giving a different perspective on mothering/ motherhood but not after too long I tired of the narrative. Whilst I open to blowing open and critiquing the 'super woman/ mother' idea, I found this book too negative to get me though the early years of child rearing. This may be an unfair review as I did not finish the book. Good in terms of giving a different perspective on mothering/ motherhood but not after too long I tired of the narrative. Whilst I open to blowing open and critiquing the 'super woman/ mother' idea, I found this book too negative to get me though the early years of child rearing. This may be an unfair review as I did not finish the book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    heartful

    A lot of her language feels needlessly complicated. I found some of her experience reassuring, but mostly found it hard to sympathise with her. Thought the introduction was the best bit of the book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sim Kern

    This is one of those books I know I will be re-reading for the rest of my life (certainly for the rest of this year). I wish I could give it 6 stars. Every mom should read this book and find solidarity and humor and words to describe the total upheaval of becoming a mother.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jane Branson

    I had to read to the end of this book to see if the author became any less irritating. She did not.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nupur Lakhe |nupur_flipaleaf

    A refreshing work of candour, beautiful. Rachel Cusk’s writing is a conversation that she has with her readers- narrating the scene with measured doses of humour. Her writing needs time to sediment and exude the fragrance of fine writing. A life’s work is a memoir where she elaborately talks of her first year as a mother. The research, the meddling of the brain and the heart that parenting sometimes requires, and the mothering that never seems to be a perfect. It takes a lot of courage to pen dow A refreshing work of candour, beautiful. Rachel Cusk’s writing is a conversation that she has with her readers- narrating the scene with measured doses of humour. Her writing needs time to sediment and exude the fragrance of fine writing. A life’s work is a memoir where she elaborately talks of her first year as a mother. The research, the meddling of the brain and the heart that parenting sometimes requires, and the mothering that never seems to be a perfect. It takes a lot of courage to pen down the journey of motherhood, primarily because it is a sensitive topic and could be perceived offensively, with a judgemental tone. Cusk here does a very impressionable job at writing her’s. Though the book focuses typically on motherhood, it might not be your cup of tea but it is one of those books that needs a space on your shelf, at some point in life. Always vouch for Cusk’s writing flair. Looking forward to get back to the trilogy and reading the Transit by her.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    this book is a brick-hitting revelation to the (somewhat vapid) genres of 'mommy memoir,' and 'motherhood.' Cusk writes with the precision of a surgeon; her narrative is stripped to a most essential task: the disclosure of the often hidden battle to assimilate motherhood into one's identity - full stop. some find her too harsh. if she is, it is by virtue of honesty and utter disregard for conventional models of femininity and parenthood. Cusk gives me hope for all of our daughters. Thanks for wr this book is a brick-hitting revelation to the (somewhat vapid) genres of 'mommy memoir,' and 'motherhood.' Cusk writes with the precision of a surgeon; her narrative is stripped to a most essential task: the disclosure of the often hidden battle to assimilate motherhood into one's identity - full stop. some find her too harsh. if she is, it is by virtue of honesty and utter disregard for conventional models of femininity and parenthood. Cusk gives me hope for all of our daughters. Thanks for writing this, Rachel.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anastasiya Mozgovaya

    motherhood is such an explosive topic, and society - mostly, women themselves though - constantly comes up with new impossible expectations for other women when they become mothers. thus, there is a need for an antidote, and this is one of them - an honest recollection of how confusing and challenging motherhood can be like! every time i read a book by Rachel Cusk, my admiration for her as a person, a thinker, and a writer goes through exponential growth.

  30. 4 out of 5

    RH Walters

    A searing white MRI of the soul, not always fun, but always familiar.

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