Book Review | Rachel Cusk’s novelty shows how dangerous it is to idolize artists – it often prevents us from experiencing art properly

Rachel Cusk’s new novel is at the same time a wild and thoughtful story about the intricate interpersonal relationships of an artist’s residency.


Rachel Cusk: Second Place. Kaisa Kattelus, Finland. 223 pp. S&S.

Praised in his novel trilogy – Outline, Transition and Honor – Canadian-English Rachel Cusk (b. 1967) introduced her self-narrator, a female writer who seems to be away from the environment all the time.

It is as if he is isolated by distorting glass or plexiglass, and therefore the sounds and deeds on the other side of it remain strange, even incomprehensible.

This is sometimes influenced by being abroad, in another culture. Sometimes it feels like the narrator is being rudely excluded from the world around him or that he or she doesn’t want to participate in its life himself or herself.

Even in the new novel, the self-narrator seems familiar. Now she writes a long letter to a friend and tells about a special time at the beach house where she lives with her husband, daughter and this spouse.

We are apparently in Britain, a homeless marshland, as well as apparently in time after a pandemic-like global event that affects everyone’s lives.

But even though Second place the narrator has similar experiences as the protagonist of the trilogy, the narrative is also different.

Predominant the difference comes from a letter format that often makes one reflect on the nature, purpose, and reliability of the entire story.

The longer one goes in the novel, the more the letter begins to seem like a diary text for which the narrator has only chosen a recipient named Jeffers.

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This is also a means of distancing Cusk: letters and diaries are often considered authentic forms of narration, although they are always fiction created by the narrator in the role he or she assumes.

The fact that such a text is now read in a novel, of course, makes one think of fiction more generally, and especially the agreement of trust between the author and the reader. In another place Cusk shows how alert the reader should always be.

This can be seen as an even more common reminder to contemporary readers, whether there was a novel or media in front of it, the sources of which are not always checked.

Author Rachel Cusk photographed in Lyon, France, in 2014.

In the aftermath Cusk also says openly that he has actually built the novel on the foundations of another work.

This is a U.S. art patron Mabel Lodge Luhanin memoir Lorenzo in Taos (1932), in which he tells the British author DH Lawrencen for a stay at Lodge Luhan’s artist-converted farm in New Mexico.

Lodge Luhan, there with her local indigenous husband, and Lawrence had a wife Frieda.

Relations with the host were as tense as they were In another place. In addition, many of its people have the same names as the artists in Lodge Luhan’s immediate circle.

It is as if Cusk has picked up a delicious situation and personality from cultural history and adapted them for his own use.

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And what kind? First of all, to be able to tell that a group of people arguing with each other and different couples is proud of old age.

It seems to have been fun for him: picturesque changes of landscape and weather, interiors, costumes and dramatic scenes are enough. Contours-trilogy and CoventryAfter the collection of essays (2019), it was no variation.

Narrative in a language that seems almost 19th century Kaisa Kattelus has reached well.

More importantly however, it has been the case that the personal composition and letter format allow for reflection on broader issues such as the relationship, motherhood, the man’s gaze, and the relationship between the artist and the experiencer.

Shaking so focuses on how the narrator invites the artist he admires to work on his farm. The name of the separate residence is Second Place, as is the novel.

The reason for the invitation is how strongly the works of the artist, who was called by the name L alone, have influenced his narrator in his time. Almost by their power, this has even broke away from the destructive relationship.

She is still recovering from it, with her new spouse.

However, the visit will not go as planned by the narrator. The reason seems at first to be Br’s female friend Brett, as well as how self-centered L and impulsive Brett are destabilizing the small community of the beach house.

Gradually, it becomes clear that this is not Brett.

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Rather, the scenes, conversations, and clashes that come up during the visit take the narrator deeper into themselves. And since L is the inspiration, it must be said that the narrator will once again make a journey to himself through art.

It is therefore natural that he often wanders from reporting events to the memories and thoughts that L and art evoke in him.

Because From another place one can sometimes read reports and even concise essays. Interestingly, Cusk ponders motherhood, for example: it is a combination of guilt and a firm decision to hold on to her own condition.

Another definition of parenting is great: “I think it’s my duty to let you go,” I said after considering it, “but if it doesn’t work out, I probably have a responsibility to take responsibility for you forever.”

Even bigger the theme is art that is addressed through both the author and the experiencer.

There are still clear gender differences in it: L is a hero, the narrator thinks he writes “little books”.

Even the gaze a woman artist points at a woman is extraordinarily strong, stripping, and suffocating. Underneath it is laborious to crawl into the fresh air, into freedom.

Even more clearly, however, the narrator’s inner journey shows how dangerous it is to idolize artists at all, to see people as the embodiment of their art.

It is a common illusion throughout our culture that often prevents us from experiencing art properly. Besides, the illusion of stardom can also be the artist’s own destruction.

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