In Review

Novel of the week: Second Place

Rachel Cusk, ‘one of our most interesting writers’, has conjured up an interesting, if slightly odd, novel

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

Having started out writing “very funny” literary novels, Rachel Cusk has switched more recently to “austere” auto-fiction, said John Self in The TimesSecond Place is “a synthesis of old and new” – an experimental, philosophically-minded novel that also has “big characters” and some “truly funny” jokes.

M, the narrator, is a writer who lives with her husband in a house on the coast. She invites a painter she admires to stay in its annexe (the “second place” of the title), but he brings along an uninvited companion – an “authentically awful” younger woman. Though not flawless, Second Place is a fascinating work from “one of our most interesting writers”.

There are moments of “brave, sharp insight”, said Claire Lowdon in The Sunday Times. But the novel is an odd concoction. The symbolism is clunky. Cusk’s “oddly fustian” prose starts “to sound like a cut-price Victorian novelist” – and “for no apparent reason”, M narrates the novel to someone called Jeffers, whom we never meet. A note at the end clears up some of this, but it can’t resolve the “central, baffling question. Why did Rachel Cusk write this book?”

Faber 224pp £14.99; The Week Bookshop £11.99

Second Place
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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