Second Place by Rachel Cusk [7/10]

Following her brilliant, angular Outline trilogy, Rachel Cusk returns with a novel at first glance less cerebral. “Second Place: A Novel” even has a plot, a straightforward one at that, but in place of a nonlinear narrative, Cusk delves deep with prose, imagery, and inner turmoils. On an idyllic, unnamed coastline, a smart but seemingly downtrodden woman in her forties, lives with her second husband (the first one was a domineering disaster) in seclusion. But deep down, her unhappiness prompts her to invite a megastar painter, renowned for his capriciousness, to sojourn at their “second place,” a nearby cottage. When he arrives with a woman, and our hero’s daughter moves in with her lover, the stage is set for conflict and existential angst, all filtered through the notion that great art, or a great artist, can clarify the soul’s longings. The plot is, in the end, slight, but scene after scene is rendered lively and emotional by the author’s unerring, fulsome yet precise style. If you’re a Rachel Cusk fan, as I am, Second Place is a must-read. For others, it might seem unambitious, but I would counsel you to persevere. A minor-key treat.

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