The Second Cut by Louise Welsh

Louise Welsh returns to the world of The Cutting Room in a noir that's as breathless and striking as you'd hope

Book Review by Alistair Braidwood | 31 Jan 2022
  • The Second Cut
Book title: The Second Cut
Author: Louise Welsh

Twenty years ago, debut novel The Cutting Room introduced readers not only to the writing of Louise Welsh but also to, arguably, her most memorable creation to date, the enigmatic and irascible auctioneer Rilke. The eagerly-awaited follow up, The Second Cut, is now with us and it’s interesting not only to consider how Rilke and the city of Glasgow have changed, but how we have as well. Would The Second Cut incite the strength of feeling as The Cutting Room – a book once read, never forgotten?

From the first chapter we are back in the dark and dangerous world which Rilke is inevitably drawn to, and despite (or most likely because of) the precarious nature of his existence it is strangely comforting to be back in his company. He goes where we may fear to tread and we have concern for him as a result. Rilke remains a striking character – an intellectual, lonely man who finds (brief) solace in drink and casual sexual encounters, and whose sense of right and wrong lead him to often make the wrong choices, if for the right reasons.

Time has taken its toll on the man, but not as much as it has on some of his contemporaries. Now trying to come to terms with the unwritten rules and regulations of the new world, he knows that when it comes to Glasgow in particular, the more things change, the more they stay they same. As friends and enemies (the lines between the two are often blurred) are killed and threatened he has to go to where the extremes meet to understand his role in these events, desperately trying to gain some understanding and control as matters build to a breathless conclusion.

Although as contemporary as any recent novel in terms of its references and commentary on the modern world, the feel of The Second Cut remains gothic and unsettling. Few writers have married literary fiction with crime as Welsh has done in her fiction, and The Second Cut is a reminder of this. This is noir as it should be – literary, licentious, and leaving you wanting more.

Canongate, out now, £14.99