Search Site
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.


Second Place (2021)

by Rachel Cusk

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2651882,531 (3.84)1 / 45
From the author of the Outline trilogy, a fable of human destiny and decline, enacted in a closed system of intimate, fractured relationships.

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

» See also 45 mentions

English (16)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
24. Second Place by Rachel Cusk
published: 2021
format: 180-page hardcover
acquired: November read:May 8-12 time reading: 5:04, 1.7 mpp
rating: 4½
genre/style: Contemporary Fiction theme: Booker 2021
locations: East Coast US tidal salt marshes
about the author: British-Canadian author born in 1967 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who grew up partially in Los Angeles, but mainly in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

opening line: "I once told you, Jeffers, about the time I met the devil on a train leaving Paris, and about how after that meeting the evil that usually lies undisturbed beneath the surface of things rose up and disgorged itself over every part of life."

I‘ve now read eleven from the 2021 Booker longlist; two to go.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Cusk is intense, from that first sentence above. And the monologue never stops. If you can tolerate that, she‘s a wonderful writer who captures thought processes in complex ways that touch familiar. I'm sure I'm not alone in reading how she says what she thinks, and noticing how much it seems like my own thinking - not the thoughts, but the manner of them.

Here the married narrator invites a male artist to live on her property‘s extra place, the second place. Her property is unusual, natural and beautiful but not necessarily desirable. It lies somewhere among the Eastern US tidal marshes. When this artist takes her up on the offer, the novel teeters on the predicable trope problems, and stays there a while. The rest of the monologue plays with layers; and also with and against the expected tropes.

There is a lot here within these thoughts. She looks at gender roles and constraints, privilege, relationships, the difficultly of communication, art, identity, and into what makes a meaningful moment, and none of this directly. It's built in, the monologue inward looking, cutting in several different ways. It's quite a style and quite a novel.

If you like that first line, give this one try.

https://www.librarything.com/topic/341027#7838541 ( )
1 vote dchaikin | May 15, 2022 |
Boring, at least it was only 6 hours (audible). Except for Tony the rest of the characters were absolutely ghastly. How did this ever get on a Booker list? ( )
  bergs47 | Apr 4, 2022 |
There is so much compressed into 180 pages, I hardly know where to begin to do justice. The main character "M" encounters the work of the artist "L" in a Paris gallery hours before departing on a train (to I forget where, somewhere in Europe) where she is followed from car to car by a leering man with a small child. M is in Paris on her own, taking a brief sabbatical from her marriage and small child, Justine. "L"s work connects her to a vision of what true freedom might be like. The combination of the paintings and the experience on the train propel her from passively accepting to actively demanding the freedom of choosing how to be in the world, but her decision destroys her marriage and for several years her own connection with her child.

Many years later M, married again, invites the artist L to come to where she lives now, by the marshes (somewhere like Norfolk) not far from the sea to stay in 'the second place' a formerly derelict cottage that she, with her second husband, Tony, have refurbished. M's marriage to Tony, is good, really good. (Really!) He farms and is grounded as a person. After delay (of years) L arrives with a young woman in tow. It is during the time we are still in, the first year of Covid. M's own daughter, now in her mid-twenties is home along with her German boyfriend Karl.

L's work served as a catalyst to M before and quickly it becomes apparent that L the person is also a catalyst. It's as much in him as in his work.
The spring is unusually warm and dry. L is elusive. M is frustrated. She hardly knows what she wants from him. Nothing. Everything. He avoids her.

Early on M says, "Why do we live so painfully in our fictions? Why do we suffer so, from the things we ourselves have invented?" Watching a bird she says, "Meanwhile I just sit staring straight ahead in front of me with nothing to do. That's all I've managed as far as freedom is concerned, to get rid of the people and things I don't like. After that there isn't all that much left!" and a little further on, "I find it difficult to meet my own needs. The sight of people getting what they want, jostling and demanding things, makes me decide I would rather go without."

About L's paintings she says, that they exude a sense of freedom, "this aura of male freedom belongs likewise to most representations of the world and of our human experience within it. and that, as women we grow accustomed to translating it into something we can recognize." -- "a case of borrowed finery."

Of clothes she says, "I was presumably dressed as I always am, in either black or white." "I like to wear soft, draping, shapeless clothes which I can add or remove in layers . . I have never understood clothes terribly well, and have found the element of choice especially unmanageable, so it was a great day for me when I realized . . . that by limiting the colours to black and white I need never think about aesthetics again."

The implication is, in a way, that a woman can only experience freedom by choosing to do empty out, to do and be nothing. Or, that is the route M has taken.

M writes movingly of being a mother. She writes of a time when her daughter was thirteen and asked her what were the limits of her obligations to her. She says, "I believe I am obliged to let you go," I said, once I'd thought about it, "but if that doesn't work out, I believe I am obliged to remain responsible for you forever."

of writing (she is a writer herself, very occasionally) "Some people write simply because they don't know how to live in the moment . . . and have to reconstruct it and live in it afterwards."

She writes too of some moments in her marriage with Tony when she realizes how differently they see and feel almost everything. When she explains to Tony of her misgivings about calling their cottage 'the second place' she says the term "pretty much summed up how I felt about myself and my life--that it had been a near miss, requiring just as much effort as victory always and forever somehow denied me, by a force that I could only describe as the force of pre-eminence. I could hever win, and the reason I couldn't seemed to lie within certain infallible laws of destiny that I was powerless--as the woman I was--to overcome." She goes on to say, "Tony listened to me, and I could tell he was slightly surprised by what I was saying . . and after a long time he said, "For me it doesn't mean that. It means parallel world. Alternative reality."

This woman may appear to do nothing, (you might find her annoying, but then you would find me annoying too) but what she does do is observe and think about the impossible and the forbidden: the possibility that art is both dangerous and completely pointless, to the likelihood that men, being men, even the best of them, cannot begin to comprehend what women's lives are made of, that the surest love for a woman is with her children.

At the very end, unnecessarily perhaps? Cusk reveals that the novel was inspired by the memoir of Mabel Mapes Dodge of D.H. Lawrence's time at her home in Taos. Jeffers, then, is Robinson Jeffers the poet. Not sure what I think about this. Does it add or subtract? I guess I'll have to read [Lorenzo in Taos] to decide. I am not a big Lawrence fan, but I have gleaned that he was just such a person as L, a force of nature.

Sorry this is so long, I am just stunned by Cusk's perceptiveness and courage about women, men, the human condition, art, you name it. ***** ( )
1 vote sibylline | Dec 7, 2021 |
This is a fascinating work. I don’t quite have the words to describe it, but I feel like I am existing inside it, feeling the characters. The writing feels like there is all this space that allows you inside the story. While you aren’t exactly interacting with the characters, you’re up close and witnessing the story personally. Most of the time, it was like I was with my late wife and we were telling each other different things about what is happening in the book, just so neither of us would miss anything. I’m already planning to read the book again. It may be my state of mind, but this seems like a very unique experience.

I finished this book under a lemon tree, and it was spectacular! It’s not even 200 pages of a small format book, but I think I took more notes than something two or three times as long. There are a few special books that I so want to know what Vicky would have thought of them, which is a frustratingly sad position to find myself in after decades of doing just that constantly. The plot is about relationships, the art world, place, family, and love. How do we fall in love? How does it age over the years? This was my favorite book in quite some time. I even got to read some of it while listening to Austin City Limits best of John Prine.

[I will return and write more once I’ve pondered this book some more.] ( )
1 vote jphamilton | Sep 30, 2021 |
Perhaps if I had read Cusk's final note at the beginning, not the end, I would not have been so irritated at the intrusion of "Jeffers" every other page or so, but I doubt it. To me it was an unnecessary literary device that inserted itself, almost violently, between me and Cusk's masterful, gorgeous voice.

The Outline trilogy was much less mannered, and thus to me much more enjoyable.

But still 4 stars, for her writing. ( )
  bobbieharv | Sep 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
I once told you, Jeffers, about the time I met the devil on a train leaving Paris, and about how after that meeting the evil that usually lies undisturbed beneath the surface of things rose up and disgorged itself over every part of life.
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS
Canonical LCC

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


From the author of the Outline trilogy, a fable of human destiny and decline, enacted in a closed system of intimate, fractured relationships.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. Over the course of one hot summer, his provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally between our internal and external worlds. With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.
Haiku summary

Popular covers

Quick Links


Average: (3.84)
1 1
2 1
2.5 4
3 8
3.5 6
4 20
4.5 4
5 11

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 170,253,211 books! | Top bar: Always visible