In her anti-confessional new novel, Rachel Cusk uncovers in others what it feels like to be human

In 2009, the English novelist Rachel Cusk wrote The Last Supper, a memoir about a trip to Italy; a month after it appeared, its publisher was forced to withdraw the first print run and pulp the books because somebody had recognized himself and was threatening to sue for breach of privacy. Cusk has also been excoriated by the British press for her memoirs about motherhood and divorce: the major complaint seems to be have been that she was not a nice person, a narcissist who cared a great deal more about herself than about her children or ex-husband.

Cusk may have learned the hard way that autobiography can be a dangerous thing. Withdrawing back into fiction, first with the Giller-nominated Outline and now with Transit, she almost effaces the self. Her unusual protagonist in Transit, a recently divorced writer who has just moved with her teenage sons to London—apparently the same...