Review By Gabrielle

Dark and dense, Rachel Cusk’s Parade defies convention.

Favourite Quote:

“When it came to love, we found ourselves confronting a foreign language. We did not know how to estimate or value things that were free. The things that were free – sex, conversation, the smell of grass in summer – unsettled us. We sought to commodify them and create outcomes from them. But they seemed to belong to everybody: we couldn’t keep them for ourselves.” 

Goodreads Synopsis: 

Midway through his life, an artist begins to paint upside down. Eventually, he paints his wife upside down. He also makes her ugly. The paintings are a great success.

In Paris, a woman is attacked by a stranger in the street. Her attacker flees, but not before turning around to contemplate her victim, like an artist stepping back from a canvas.

When a mother dies, her children confront her the stories she told; the roles she assigned to them; the ways she withheld her love. Her death is a kind of freedom.

An artist takes on a series of pseudonyms to conceal his work from his mother and father. His brother does the opposite. They share the same parents, but they’ve inherited different things.

Parade is a story that confronts and demolishes the conventions of storytelling. It surges past the limits of identity, character, and plot to tell a true story—about art, family, morality, gender, and how we compose ourselves. Rachel Cusk is a writer and visionary like no other, who turns language upside down to show us our world as it really is.

Right off the bat let me state that this book was not for me. Is it brilliant? Probably. But that doesn’t change my opinion. If you’ve ever stood in an art gallery and puzzled over the language and meaning of an artist statement, you get a sense of what you are in for, but instead of a few paragraphs, it’s a whole book. A word salad of a book. I was left feeling overwhelmed, like I had been stuffed into a subway car with altogether too many people, all my senses assaulted. Sure this is literary fiction and some of that is to be expected, but this book is claustrophobic with words. There is no space between them for the meaning to seep through. 

I think I should give this some context because many could read this review and say I just didn’t get it. Believe me, I got it. I am perhaps the worst person to review this book having spent my whole career in the art world, and the last five years specifically “translating” those bewildering artist statements into language that is more accessible to everyday folks and in particular, to children. As an art educator, my role has been to remove the pretentious language that creates barriers to art so it can be enjoyed by a broader audience. So I have a clear bias here and I’m not afraid to admit it. I do think there is a niche audience that will love this book and I’m delighted it exists for that reason.

Now onto some good things about it. The structure of the book is really interesting. We have four segments or sections. Did Rachel succeed in “disturbing and defining the novel” as the book jacket promises? I don’t know about that. Each reads like a self contained short story. Each is about a different artist named simply “G”. I will say my enjoyment of the book grew with sections three and four which I enjoyed much more than the first two.

There are some overlapping themes between the segments. Motherhood is heavily examined from all sides. Feminism and what it means to be a woman is another. How and why our morals are the way they are is scrutinized. And of course, art. The nature of making and consuming it is investigated. What I loved most about this book is its shocking honesty. How raw it all was. It is a thinker and will challenge you to look at your own beliefs and relationships.

If you love art and artists, give this one a try. It’s for you.

Thank you, HarperCollins Publishers for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.