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Fiction General

Second Place

A Novel

by (author) Rachel Cusk

Initial publish date
Apr 2022
General, Historical, Literary
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2021
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2022
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Longlisted for the Booker Prize

On O, The Oprah Magazine’s list of 55 of the Most Anticipated Books of 2021

On a sun-soaked Parisian street, M, a mother on the brink of rebellion, wanders into a famous artist’s gallery show. The artist’s paintings speak—quite literally—to her, promising a liberation usually reserved for men. She returns to the coastal home she shares with her husband, but the unsettling impression of the art, and the evasive artist, remains. So she writes to him, inviting him to stay in their second place, a modest cottage salvaged from the land.

When historical catastrophe upends daily life, M’s daughter returns to the marsh, along with her prim, privileged boyfriend. The painter arrives too, accompanied by a lithe, cosmopolitan lover. As the couples become resigned to the perilous indoors, fissures form within the strange group. The painter’s quietly demonic presence wreaks havoc with M, plunging her into existential disarray. As secrets, alliances and private desires come to light, she is forced to choose between her deepest impulses: to comply or to rebel completely.

Like her acclaimed Outline trilogy, Rachel Cusk’s Second Place transcends its form. Inspired by Lorenzo in Taos, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir about the writer D. H. Lawrence’s fraught visit to her communal property, the novel hovers between past and present, Gothic and contemporary, fable and truth—and continues to haunt us long after we’ve looked away.

About the author

Rachel Cusk is the author of nine novels, three non-fiction works, a play, and numerous shorter essays and memoirs. Her first novel, Saving Agnes, was published in 1993. Her most recent novel, Kudos, the final part of the Outline trilogy, will be published in the US and the UK in May 2018.
Saving Agnes won the Whitbread First Novel Award, The Country Life won the Somerset Maugham Award and subsequent books have been shortlisted for the Orange Prize, Whitbread Prize, Goldsmiths Prize, Bailey’s Prize, and the Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award in Canada. She was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003. Her version of Euripides’ Medea was directed by Rupert Goold and was shortlisted for the Susan Blackburn Smith Award.
Rachel was born in Canada in 1967 and spent her early childhood in Los Angeles before moving to the UK in 1974. She studied English at Oxford and published her first novel Saving Agnes when she was twenty six, and its themes of femininity and social satire remained central to her work over the next decade. In responding to the formal problems of the novel representing female experience she began to work additionally in non-fiction. Her autobiographical accounts of motherhood and divorce (A Life’s Work and Aftermath) were groundbreaking and controversial. 
Most recently, after a long period of consideration, she attempted to evolve a new form, one that could represent personal experience while avoiding the politics of subjectivity and literalism and remaining free from narrative convention. That project became a trilogy (Outline, Transit and Kudos). Outline was one of The New York Times’ top 5 novels in 2015. Judith Thurman’s 2017 profile of Rachel in The New Yorker comments “Many experimental writers have rejected the mechanics of storytelling, but Cusk has found a way to do so without sacrificing its tension. Where the action meanders, language takes up the slack. Her sentences hum with intelligence, like a neural pathway.”

Rachel Cusk's profile page


  • Walrus Best Book of the Year
  • CBC Books Best of Canadian Fiction
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Books
  • National Book Critics Circle Award
  • Booker Prize
  • Governor General’s Literary Award
  • Publishers Weekly Top 10 Books of 2021
  • TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books
  • O, The Oprah Magazine 55 of the Most Anticipated Books of 2021
  • New York Times Critic’s Top Books
  • International Dublin Literary Award
  • Globe and Mail Top 100 for 2021

Editorial Reviews

“Cusk is at her best when she works in diversions, as she does with the deceptive simplicity of Second Place. The novel is skillfully meandering, offering consistent flashes of insight while traversing a great deal of intellectual terrain. The drama is tight and the action straightforward, but when it comes to the beguiling complexity of human nature, the wisdom offered here is significant.” — Quill & Quire

“Cusk, as always, is brilliant at the subtleties of human dynamics, which here are as ever-changing as the landscape against which they’re set.” — Toronto Star

“Cusk is as brilliant as ever at revealing the tumult that occurs when people with varying strengths of personal will come into close contact with each other. Second Place is the kind of book that requires re-reading, but also rewards it.” — Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“[Second Place] is engaging, and so thought-provoking that it may well cause readers to re-examine their own lives. . . Cusk captivates the reader, her asides and interpretations astute, often funny and memorable.” — Winnipeg Free Press

“Cusk has dressed an incisive meditation on the meaning of art in a delicious psychodrama about three couples communing in the woods.” — Chatelaine