three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
By: 
Rachel Cusk
user_rating: 
0

A-IntheFoldWhen Michael’s college roommate, Adam Hanbury, invites him to visit Egypt, the family’s country farm, the impressionable young Michael falls in love with Adam’s family, their genteel upbringing, and Egypt itself, believing that "life was going to expand and expand and become beautiful." Many years later, Michael, now a lawyer in Bath, finds himself unhappily married, an awkward father, and in dire need of a holiday. He reconnects with Adam, who invites Michael and his small son to Egypt. But instead of the tasteful family and country estate he once admired, Michael discovers deception, anger, violence, and dark secrets destroying Egypt from within.
Little, Brown. 272 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0316058270

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Her grasp of the vast intricacies of human relations has the cool equanimity of George Eliot, but the lens through which she views the world is pure Evelyn Waugh. … [Michael’s] love for [his son] Hamish—a beautiful, barrel-faced child whose long silences give him a comic Churchillian air—is easily the finest and most overlooked point in the story." Gail Caldwell

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Another eccentric Brideshead-like family bewitches yet another impressionable young Englishman in Cusk’s sharp, playful novel. … It’s a familiar tale of youth and disillusionment, but Cusk gives it contemporary crackle and some poignant new twists." Jennifer Reese

Evening Standard 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In this curious novel, Cusk’s elegant and vivid descriptions frequently have a terrific freshness. Cusk sets out to, and does, achieve the mannered morality play of Chekhov." Philippa Stockley

Irish Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The narrator, cursed by an inability to belong—even to his wife and child—remains at all times a distant observer of his own life, and Cusk bravely eschews the lazy fashion for sympathetic characters, driving us onward into his alienation and unhappiness with a blackthorn stick and a brusque manner. … Cusk strikes a harsh poetry out of irredeemable lives, making In the Fold not so much a portrait of the decay of rural life as a satire on our illusions about it." William Wall

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"In the Fold is scary smart, but that’s not to say it’s a pleasure, exactly. Rather, it’s like spending a revelatory week with uniquely dysfunctional distant relatives." Ada Calhoun

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3 of 5 Stars
"There are at least three obvious opportunities for a climax in the story—one in Michael’s marriage, another in revisiting the Hanburys, and a third in which one of these unhappy worlds threatens to imitate the other. But the author handles these turning points with great ambiguity. Enigma of plot, however, is well compensated for by keen emotional observations, sentences with each word lovingly chosen, and dialogue worthy of dramaturgy." Holly Silva

Spectator 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The writer succeeds so well in evoking the claustrophobia of a close family, and in recording the superficial nature of its bickering, that the reading of it feels very much like being trapped in a small, packed car on a long journey through bad weather. I really wanted to enjoy this book… but there was just too little to love." Olivia Glazebrook

Critical Summary

Cusk’s fifth novel was long listed for the Booker Prize, an honor that somehow belies its good, but unspectacular, reviews. A work that wordsmiths will love for its dialogue, In the Fold speaks of youth, privilege, and disillusionment—but, unlike Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Charles in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Michael understands the deception of appearances. Praised for her limning of psychic and emotional complexity, Cusk establishes convincing stereotypes of wealth, just to tear them down and cast a revelatory light on the treachery of it all. A few critics, however, saw Michael as a "sneering" narrator who infuses the book with meanness (Spectator); others thought too little happened to too many people. In sum, the novel is depressing, to be sure, but it’s a playful, biting comment on human relationships.