Second Place by Rachel Cusk: A good novel by a great novelist

Book review: It may not reach the heady heights of her previous work but it’s still better than anything else out there

Rachel Cusk has written her first book, called Second Place, since publishing her highly successful trilogy: Outline, Transit and Kudos. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty

Rachel Cusk has written her first book, called Second Place, since publishing her highly successful trilogy: Outline, Transit and Kudos. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty

A few years ago, I attended a literary awards ceremony in Toronto where Rachel Cusk, one of the shortlisted authors, arrived wearing the most stunning white dress. Being an unreconstructed middle-aged man, I dared to compliment her on her outfit and she surprised me by saying that it was, in fact, her wedding dress. I was reminded of this while reading Second Place when M, a novelist, goes to have her portrait painted by L, and chooses her own wedding dress for the sitting. Sadly, the garment in question does not appear to bring luck, as Cusk didn’t win the prize and M is confronted by something so upsetting that it’s among the highlights of the book.

Having read most of Cusk’s novels, and being aware of her propensity for transplanting scenarios from her life into her fiction, I found myself wondering who the painter at the heart of the story was, for he’s a figure of such narcissism and arrogance that I assumed he must be out there somewhere, annoying people.

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