In Rachel Cusk’s 2021 Booker longlisted Second Place a woman invites a famed artist to a coastal landscape where she lives so that his vision may penetrate the mystery of her life.
Cusk is an extraordinary writer, her prose truly is masterful, there wasn’t a single sentence that was displaced in the book. Her prose is remarkably deep and psychologically very strong and sentence to sentence, it’s the most beautiful thing and if you return to it and read it again, there’s a lot more depth and layers in her writing.
There are many themes running through it but at the centre of it is freedom. Cusk constantly through her narrator points out what freedom is? What does it feel to be free? There’s a line in the novel: “That’s all I’ve managed as far as freedom is concerned, to get rid of people and things I don’t like ”
Freedom through art is touched by Cusk here that whether art can free or save you (as it did M, the narrator when she saw the landscape painting of L, the artist in Paris) and can it destroy you ( which it also did as we learn in the book)
These themes including the theme of motherhood is tackled so remarkably well.
There is a lot of buffoonery going on in the novel that is quite comical and sometimes uncomfortable and that leads to the aspect of social observation in the book. The cast of characters stuck in the marsh, their behaviour, their acts, everything is done so well by Cusk here.
Truly, a masterful book but yeah it might divide people.
Second place- Rachel Cusk. Published by Faber & Faber