Student Notes on Rachel Cusk’s ‘Forty Weeks’ from A Life’s Work


One of the main themes throughout this piece was pain. The mother to be, spoke regularly about her fear of pain and her dread of a painful labour. This fear seemed to stem from an early childhood experience of hospitals. She also complained about a lack of information and literature on the actual process of giving birth. Any literature she did read was mostly unhelpful or too simplistic. This made her feel isolated and alone in her experience. She found it difficult to interact with other pregnant women. This was highlighted when she attended the yoga class and spoke very little to the other women, making an excuse and leaving early while everybody else stayed for tea. Cusk purposely fails to mention the fact that the pregnant lady is not alone. We learn in the last paragraph that the father of the child is present and more than likely, has been throughout the whole pregnancy.

The whole theme of pregnancy is shed in a very negative light. Never once does the mother display joy or excitement about her future child. This is very uncharacteristic of most texts relating to pregnancy and is an important point that Cusk tries to make. The narrator mocks the National Health Service’s information leaflet entitled “Emma’s Diary”, a fictional character’s week-by-week diary account of her pregnancy. Emma’s account of pregnancy is too normal and ‘perfect’ for the narrators liking.

In conclusion, I felt that the text was very purposely written and Cusk chose her words and images carefully. Although it may not have been very enjoyable or uplifting it still hit on some important issues regarding how pregnancy is portrayed in literature.


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