Reviews of Second Place by Rachel Cusk

Second Place

by Rachel Cusk

Second Place by Rachel Cusk X
Second Place by Rachel Cusk
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2021, 192 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2022, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

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

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. 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 in the intersecting spaces of our internal and external worlds.

With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Rachel Cusk's Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.

Excerpt
Second Place

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. It was like a contamination, Jeffers: it got into everything and turned it bad. I don't think I realised how many parts of life there were, until each one of them began to release its capacity for badness. I know you've always known about such things, and have written about them, even when others didn't want to hear and found it tiresome to dwell on what was wicked and wrong. Nonetheless you carried on, building a shelter for people to use when things went wrong for them too. And go wrong they always do!

Fear is a habit like any other, and habits kill what is essential in ourselves. I was left with a kind of blankness, Jeffers, from those years of being afraid. I kept on expecting things to jump out at me – I kept expecting ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While the connection to the story of Lawrence and Luhan is one readers may find interesting, Cusk's unnecessary adherence to certain details of her characters' real-life counterparts accounts for the most questionable and incongruous parts of the novel. Regardless of how Second Place came to be, it's a taut and engaging novel full of personal and philosophical suspense that offers a complicated look at a woman struggling to understand herself and her place in the world. Like Cusk's previous work, it makes the otherwise banal endlessly intriguing...continued

Full Review Members Only (935 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

O, the Oprah Magazine
Cusk, a virtuoso of our interior lives and the author of the renowned Outline Trilogy, here spins a captivating, compulsively readable tale—part confession, part allegory—that unflinchingly peers into the crevices of relationships.

Vulture (Most Anticipated)
The plot is simple, but the way it unfolds is as nuanced as ever, narrated in M's second person to someone offstage. As with Cusk's Outline trilogy, it takes seriously the complex emotional geometries between ordinary people. Second Place is a deeply philosophical book about what happens when you confuse art with life.

New York Times
It's as if Cusk has been reading Joyce Carol Oates's best novels. She digs into the gothic core of family and romantic entanglements. I filled the margins with check marks of admiration, but also with exclamation points. This novel pushes its needles into the red...If I could have rubbed a lamp and lightened this book's lurid intensities, I might have. It is not a novel that gladdens the soul. But gladdening the soul has never been Cusk's project.

NPR
Cusk grapples with [D.H. Lawrence's] spirit in Second Place, her first novel since the Outline Trilogy, which is one of the great fictional achievements of the new millennium. Where those crystalline novels were largely plotless and had the chilly burn of dry ice, this fascinating book finds her moving in a messier new direction...[Cusk] writes with a knife-thrower's precision and showmanship.

Paris Review
Whatever it is we want from [Rachel Cusk], Second Place delivers in spades. And with the dynamism of a truly great writer, the novel seems written just for the spring of 2021 but was actually inspired by the memoir of Mabel Dodge Luhan, a patron who played host to D.H. Lawrence in Taos, New Mexico, in 1932...Cusk gives us three 'stages of women,' leaving hints of female truths I'll carry for the rest of my life, and no small amount of lush, threatening scenery.

The Guardian (UK)
Her genius is that in deliberately blurring a boundary of her own – that between a writer and her subject, between the expectation of autobiography so often attached to writing by women, and the carapace of pure invention so often unthinkably afforded to men – she tricks us into believing that her preoccupations and failings, her privileges and apparent assumptions, are not our own. By the time we realize what has happened, it is too late: our own surface has been disturbed, our own complacent compartment dismantled. It is a shock, but as the narrator of Second Place reminds us, 'shock is sometimes necessary, for without it we would drift into entropy.'

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Riffing on D.H. Lawrence's famously fraught visit with Mabel Dodge Luhan in New Mexico, Cusk chronicles a fictional woman's attempt to find meaning in other people's art...Brilliant prose and piercing insights convey a dark but compelling view of human nature.

Library Journal (starred review)
Once again, Cusk delivers a novel so thorny with ideas that every sentence merits a careful reading, yet crafted in language as ringingly clear as fine crystal...A gorgeously sculpted story of living and learning; for all readers.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[I]ntelligent, sparkling...There is the erudition of the author's Outline trilogy here, but with a tightly contained dramatic narrative. It's a novel that feels timeless, while dealing with ferocious modern questions.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Mabel Dodge Luhan

sepia-tinted photo of Mabel Dodge LuhanRachel Cusk reveals through a note at the end of her novel Second Place that the book is based on Lorenzo in Taos, a 1932 memoir by Mabel Dodge Luhan recounting the time the author D.H. Lawrence spent with her in Taos, New Mexico. Luhan, whose full name was Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (as the result of multiple marriages), was a famous patron known for her support of writers, artists and other influential people. She had a contentious relationship with Lawrence, which she detailed in her memoir.

Luhan was born Mabel Ganson to wealthy parents in Buffalo, New York in 1879. At a young age, she became disillusioned with the banalities and oppressive nature of upper-class life. Her first husband, Karl Evans, died in a hunting ...

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