November 22, 2021 9:46 AM EST

Expectations were high for Rachel Cusk’s first novel following the conclusion of her critically acclaimed Outline trilogy, and Second Place delivers. It’s a return to a more traditional plot, though one that’s obscured by the manner of its delivery—our narrator, a writer called M, recounts the story like a monologue, full of digressions and philosophical tangents. She begins from a point of obsession, recalling the way her life was changed by the work of an artist called L. Now, years later, M lives with her husband, her adult daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend on a beautiful and remote English marsh, and she decides to invite L to stay at their guesthouse. He arrives—with a girlfriend, unexpectedly—and soon his presence creates a tension that upsets the calm of this otherwise Edenic retreat. It’s a domestic drama made delightfully strange through Cusk’s treatment, woven through with big questions about love and art.

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