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?