Review: Second Place, by Rachel Cusk
A bit of a mixed feeling bag on this one for me - on the one hand, I can see why it was longlisted for the Booker, because it's exactly the type of book they love; on the other hand, I did think there was a great deal of literary merit and the quality of writing is excellent; on the third hand (a foot, if you will) I would have loved for there to just be a little bit of a plot.
It's also possible that a lot of what this book is about, the philosophical debates and musings and suchforth, just went right over my head because I'm a moron.
This book is basically 200 pages of a very long letter from the first-person narrator to, I assume, a friend of hers who does not feature anywhere in the actual narrative of the book. On one hand I understand why Rachel Cusk did this, because it allowed her to properly set up the exposition in a novel that had very little dialogue in a way that she wouldn't have had if she had used a foil who had participated in the tension, but it did also mean that we were experiencing all of the events of the narrative at a second or even third hand remove. And considering how little plot there already was, that just made things feel even more theoretical and more difficult to actually, properly care about.
The only obvious theme I could pick up on too was how artists are assholes, and the difficulties of being a middle-aged woman parenting a young twentysomething daughter is. Also I think there were comments about menopause in there. Which, you know - all of these philosophical musings I can enjoy, I just didn't relate to them. And I can enjoy a book with a central character and/or narrator that I don't relate to (how many books have I read with a male central character? Too many, I am afraid!), but in that case, I need a bit of a plot to sink my teeth into. And I'm sorry, Rachel, but this book didn't have a plot - it was just a loosely connected series of scenes, linked together by a theme I couldn't quite grasp.
I can understand why it was longlisted for the Booker - this kind of meandering, reflective book is exactly the type of thing so many prize committees seemed to enjoy - but I can also understand why it was left off the shortlist, ultimately. I thought there was enough literary merit there for me to be intrigued by the idea of potentially picking up some of Cusk's other works, but globally this one left me feeling a bit unimpressed.