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Booker Longlist 2021 – Second Place

Rachel Cusk - Second Place

Book 3 Read by 4 of the team and reviewed by Tracy, Anita & Susie

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: 

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.

Rachel Cusk is the author of the Outline trilogy, the memoirs A Life’s Work and Aftermath, and several other works of fiction and non-fiction. She is a Guggenheim fellow. She lives in Paris.

BookWorm’s Thoughts:  Based on the synopsis I was not expecting to like this one but from the opening line I was captured by the magic of Cusk’s writing (yes you guessed it, it has that something I can’t explain but that speaks to my soul).

The landscape is remote, the narrator self-obsessed but also self-doubting, the artist is to put it bluntly an ass and it turns out that the secondary characters are the nicest in the book. There is definitely a line drawn between those who believe they are the centre of events and those who orbit them.

The book takes its inspiration from Lorenzo in Taos and I will have to read that at some point to see what I missed while reading this.

At the end of the book I feel like I know a lot about M while at the same time I was left thinking what actually happened.

Writing quality:5/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 14/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: There was a lot of longing in this book. M. wants to be a patron of the arts. She wants her second home to be THE location that supports artists-in-residence. And she wants to be recognized in the artistic community for her generosity. She wants to be in first place. 

The writing in this book was full of tension due to that longing. Cusk is a master with words- her writing is addictive and erudite. The premise behind the story wasn’t so original, but her writing made it fresh. The plot was contained- it certainly could have gone off the rails more than once.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 3.5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total: 17/20

Susie’s Thoughts: I am a huge fan of Cusk’s Outline trilogy. It is one of the standout experiences of my reading life. Second Place fell short of that reading experience, however I still see it as an excellent novel. Cusk is such an intelligent writer, and Second Place is a deeply intelligent work, so much so it may ostracise some readers. On a surface level, a woman is writing letters to a friend (?), telling him about a period in her life when she invited a famed artist to come and stay. Nothing startling here. As you move through the novel, you find observations about gender roles, identity, ageing, and art, and these observations become more poignant as the novel progresses. I still felt at arms length though, and was left wanting a little more. I expect to see this one on the shortlist.

Writing quality: 4.5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment:1.5/2
Total: 16/20

Ratings Anita: I think there’s a great chance that Second Place will actually come in first place for the Booker prize.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment:2/2
Total: 17/20

Rankings so far
No one is Talking about it: 16.83
Second Place 16
Klara and the Sun 13.3

Our panellists think we could be on to a winner with this one, what do you think?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. sidvenu #

    Hey, y’all. I wanted to reach out to you regarding one of your posts (, but couldn’t find your emails anywhere on this website. Can you tell me if and how I can reach out to you?


    August 17, 2021

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