Fiction and the Limits of the Self: A Review of Rachel Cusk’s “Second Place”

"Second Place"

The projection of self as god works far better as a mantra of living if the reality around you is believable. If the narrative and the plot holds true, and if dreams and assumptions come to fruition, then the little world around you can be one of your own creation. Unless of course, the narrative you have created disintegrates before your very eyes, washed away by every adverse or unexpected event, the true events of life playing out incorrectly according to the preconceived story. Rachel Cusk, star auto-fictional writer of the twenty-first century, wonders at this self-as-god idea, and wars against her loss of attaining it, returns to her dissection of the limits of the self in her new novel Second Place. The story is told by the narrator, referred to as M, to a Jeffers, a therapist-like presence, or maybe a pet. M recants the story of L, a famous artist, coming to stay at her and her husband Tony’s second place, a small artist’s studio near the main residence on the secluded marshland they live on (a Marfa-Marsh if you will.) 

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A Natural History of Vulnerability


A Natural History of Vulnerability: Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy and the craft of dialogic projection
by Campbell Copland

Written between the years 2015-18, Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy inverts the contemporary trend of autofiction (à la Knausgaard, Ben Lerner, Sheila Heti) by subsuming the subjectivity of the narrator/main protagonist in objectivity and otherness.  

Structured as a series of conversations, both scheduled and encountered, between the narrator and a spectrum of other people – from former and prospective lovers (as in Outline, the first book of the trilogy), to the workers who’re handling her home renovations (as in Transit, the second book) – the narrator is given shape and outline by the stories of the people she speaks with, amounting to an oral history of sorts, detailing the ambiguity of modern human relationships in their infinite situational variation and complexity.  

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