Rachel Cusk has written "Life's Work" – a book about becoming a mother

Sunday, 17.11.2019
00:33 clock

The child is here. And when Rachel Cusk walks through the door at home, for the first time as a mother, she panics.


Here the cupboard, there the pictures, everything as always, but their old identity does not exist anymore. Your own life, suddenly alien. "It's like I've bought something extremely expensive that I've been desperate for in the store and that I'm facing with wistful courage, here in my living room," she notes. "I have no use for the precious new acquisition, but I can not give it."

This is just one of many passages in this book that are marked with illuminated pencil. Even people who have never read a book about becoming a parent know immediately: Such sentences about being a mother, which immediately make clear the whole disunity, are a rarity. To deviate publicly from the pattern of the at least good mother – who else dares?


Ulf Andersen / etty Images
Writer Rachel Cusk tells of a metamorphosis

  She was sure, the author Rachel Cusk says in the introduction, had she published this book "About Motherhood" three years earlier, the reaction would have been: Why does she even have children when it's such a horror? Mind you, "Lifetime Achievement" dates back to 2001, and it took almost two decades for the North American novel to be published in German. But has changed so much? That the reactions today are not necessarily milder, the understanding is not generous, showed the debate about the study "Regretting Motherhood", the Orna Donath published in 2015 – the sociologist was dealing with women who regret having become a mother.


Cusk's mind resembles the two tangled gums on the cover: holding tight – and trapped. The book is no counselor, no psychological study, no social science or historical approach to motherhood. But the history of a feeling, sandwiched between the dogmas of a role.

  She tells of a metamorphosis that no one has explained to her before: losing oneself, watching movies about body eater in the head, the stubborn insistence that you do not have to damn just be a mother. Cusk's consternation sometimes overwhelms you when reading, her cynicism is sometimes fatalistic and beautifully sharp. So she devises "constantly new outbreak plans", feels "surrounded": "The loss [der] liberties seemed to me like an exorbitantly high price for the privilege of motherhood."

As angry as a crush

  In the end, Cusk wrote the book "Lifetime Achievement" that she herself would have liked when she got her first daughter. When she gets pregnant again, she finally starts to write down everything, as furious as she has a crush, drastically as well as poetically. Meanwhile, her husband takes care of the child.

Price inquiry time: 13.11.2019, 16:14 o'clock without guarantee

Rachel Cusk Life Plant: About becoming a mother

Publishing company:
Suhrkamp Verlag
EUR 22,00
Translated by:
Eva Bonné


The usual baby stuff is also there – the colic, the primeval fatigue, the melting joy at first sight – but Cusk uses it as an analysis material, looks at other literary mother figures, Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina. She complains about writing to herself about a room for herself, continuing Virginia Woolf's idea – both as a woman and as a writer: "A woman must have money and a private room to write," Woolf wrote 90 years ago.

  Cusk was also attacked after its release for her unbeatable undisguised life-work credo. She described in interviews that she could not write after that, could not think anymore. In the romance trilogy, which was last published ("Outline", "Transit", "Kudos"), there is no "I" anymore, her character, the writer Faye, is created as the sum of scenes.

  It has to be said so clearly: A text like "Lifetime Achievement" can easily help a society to become fairer for mothers, for women. One wished the book would be read by all non-mothers; Men are explicitly included here. "Birth and motherhood are the anvil on which gender inequality was forged," writes Cusk. "Women have to live with the possibility of pregnancy": so banal, so existential, that almost the ground gives way under one.


Once a friend and baby visit, they talk about the short nights, the turmoil, the effort. But, the friend adds, she should not forget the good, please. And Cusk trembles. Do not know what the girlfriend means, "good", where, what, she still wants to ask, well, she leaves it.

  Cusk, with this letter in his hand, knows, on the other hand, of the gentle way back to himself: parental love, she notes, is above all a re-exploration: of self-love.

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