Second Place by Rachel Cusk (Booker Prize 2021 longlist), and a few thoughts on others I’ve read…

I am slowly making my way through as many of the books long-listed for the Booker Prize as our library has. I read most of The Promise by Damon Galgut before abandoning it for Perpetual Light by Francis Spufford. Now I am finishing second place by Rachel Cusk.

It is disarming to read so many sentences which end with an exclamation mark! I’m absorbing a fresh idea, or pausing to write a quote in my commonplace book, and wham! An unexpected quotation mark jerks me out of my reverie!

Of all the pages in this book, I found my favorite quote early on:

Why do we live so painfully in our fictions? Why do we suffer so, from the things we ourselves have invented?

(p. 8)

If you look closely at the cover of second place, you can see it is a painting of a naked woman in a marsh. A woman who looks most distressed, covering her face with her hands, crying. This, supposedly, represents the narrator; a woman whom I perceived as greatly troubled. She searches for identity, her place as a wife, mother, desired woman. (Yawn.) Throughout the novel she addresses a person named Jeffers, whom I can only assume is a counselor of some sort.

I could not bring myself to care about her, or the foolish life she leads, inviting an artist to the marsh where she and her second husband, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, live. The novel is very atmospheric, to be sure, but it had nothing profound (or new) to say to me. I didn’t like it very much.

The Booker long list of 2021 is not going very well for me. I was bored by The Promise, with its story of siblings in South Africa. Light Perpetual held gorgeous writing, as it imagined children who had been struck by a bomb in WWII actually living; the only “problem” was their lives were so ordinary one wonders if it made any difference that they lived. second place is my least favorite of the three. I have now begun China Room, and that is quite promising in its revelation of life in India. More news on that when I finish.

Are you reading the Booker long list this year?

6 thoughts on “Second Place by Rachel Cusk (Booker Prize 2021 longlist), and a few thoughts on others I’ve read…”

  1. Hello Bellezza! Hope all is going well. From what I’ve seen here and there, I think your reaction to Cusk’s Second Place is pretty typical. I have a copy myself, so far unread, and I must admit my enthusiasm for it is flagging. I have read a few things by Cusk, most of them her early work, but much of her later fiction doesn’t really appeal.
    I’m not reading the Booker long list this year, although I was a bit tempted to do so. In my pre-blogging days, it was one of my favorite summer projects but I’m afraid now I have too many other recommendations from book blogs. There were also a few years where I just didn’t find the list that interesting, partly I think because fewer Commonwealth authors are included now that U.S. writers are eligible.
    I did read Galgut’s The Promise early this summer. My reaction to it was quite different from yours, however, i.e., I loved it, but then I’ve a weakness for Galgut’s fiction since reading his In A Strange Room (it was one of the years I was doing a Booker project!)
    I hope you have better luck with Sahota’s China Room. I haven’t read it yet (have a copy sitting around) but I was very impressed by his earlier novel, The Year of the Runaways, which I also read when I was doing a Booker summer project! Hmmm, maybe I should resume doing this, as I found some very interesting writers this way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, dear Janakay! I would not say my reaction to Second palace is typical in that I have seen it highly praised by “those who know.” I mean, it had to make the long list somehow! Even reviewers on npr seemed to like it, not that highly esteem that organization. At any rate, I have never read anything by Cusk before, and I am not likely to again. One of the things that confounded me was M (can’t you give her a name, Rachel?!) is speaking to someone named Jeffers throughout the novel. One review I read said that this Jeffers is the poet Robinson a Jeffers, but to me it could have been just as likely to be Oliver Jeffers (who wrote The Day The Crayons Quit for children).

      I am really enjoying China Room. It is beautifully written, and quite engaging. I love India in the first place.

      I can see why you are preoccupied with book recommendations from fellow bloggers. Those continue to call to me, along with favorite bookish events such the R.I.P. XVI which I just saw announced yesterday. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Meredith, In you recent review of Second Place I felt like you were reading my mind. This is my first year into retirement. I was so looking forward to taking my time with each selection off Man Booker. Instead, my thoughts are to scrap Man Booker. alltogether. There was nothing redeemable about the narrator in Second place. The story was not captivating or interesting. The Promise was equally disappointing . I finished A Passage North last weekend. While the opening chapter caught my interest I put it aside to read Ian Rankin mysteries. Thanks again for your web site and for posting genuine critiques .

    Sincerely, Joe Wyatt


    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is quite encouraging to me that you found me here, and left me a comment, let alone feel similarly to my opinions. By the way, happy retirement! What a joyful thing to finally find large chunks of time for one’s reading pleasure! Before you scrap the Booker long list altogether, you may wish to pick up China Room, which I am halfway through and find very powerful. I also have The Passage North waiting…but, Ian Rankin mysteries? Those are something I haven’t read. Yet.😉


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