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2.8 out of 5 stars58
2.8 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 3 October 2009
I read this book first with a sense of delight and then a growing feeling of alarm. Cusk writes beautifully, and the initial description of the Bradshaw family waking up is sublime. The author commpares their house to a kind of musical instrument, with Thomas Bradshaw the bass in the kitchen and his daughter and wife sounding the shriller notes in their bedrooms in the upper reaches of the building.

However, it began to dawn on me that the book would consist of nothing else besides description. Each page seems to contain two or three similes: people are compared to mists, mohagany and butterflies pinned in a Victorian display case. The list is endless. Each description is apt and perfectly thought-out but collectively they just clog up the narrative of the book.

The overall impression is of a David Lodge campus novel with all the humour sucked out. The book is crying out for more plot and more dialogue. I was really looking forward to the undoubtedly very intelligent Cusk revealing more about her characters: the annoyingly-spelt English lecturer Tonie who has just been promoted and the lodger Olga, but they never become much more than ciphers for the author to show off her wordiness. In short, this novel has too much head without much in the way of a beating heart.
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on 18 January 2010
This book irritated me beyond measure; I didn't enjoy it, but finished it in the hope that something would gell towards the end. When I don't care about the characters and what happens to them, I know I'm reading a book that has no 'juice'. Plotless books I can deal with; it's okay to write muscular vignettes, but TBV got lost in its padding of trivial details. In short, I found the whole thing pointless and was dismayed that Cusk could have written something so bad - I wonder if she actually enjoyed writing it? It seemed ironic that the only 'character', the dog Skittle, died at the end, while the humans swam about helplessly in an introverted tide of ennui and disconnection. As bad as it gets, and I'm sorry to say that about Cusk, who can write well.
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VINE VOICEon 25 September 2009
I enjoyed "The Bradshaw Variations" but somehow it doesn't hit the spot, because the characters don't have enough space to develop properly. There are so many different voices and viewpoints from the wider Bradshaw family that it's hard to focus on the central narrative of Thomas Bradshaw and his wife Tonie. Thomas has given up his job to allow Tonie to become head of the English department at a lesser university, and (incomprehensibly, so far as their respective parents and siblings are concerned) Tonie now brings home the bacon while Thomas takes over the school run and experiments with piano lessons. In the course of the novel we also delve into the lives of Thomas' elder brother Howard and his wife Claudia, younger brother Leo and his (seemingly alcoholic) wife Susie, and dissatisfied elderly parents. I found it slightly frustrating to see almost as much of the ostensibly lesser characters as we do of Tonie and Thomas, as the result is that no-one gets the attention they deserve within what is, after all, a fairly slender volume (249 pages). I have therefore been left feeling unsure whether I really "know" any of the characters, and rather wishing that I did. But a pleasant enough read despite that.
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VINE VOICEon 4 November 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Whilst I couldn't help but admire Cusk's accomplished writing skills; I found little to enjoy in this book. The characters are depressingly unhappy and hopeless and for me, all quite unlikable. Nothing really seemed to happen throughout the entire book; each page left me with a sense that there was no point in continuing. I appreciate that the reader may well be at fault here for choosing a book so unsuitable for them but aside from the undeniably elegant writing style; the overall experience wasn't a good one.
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on 27 October 2010
Comparisons with Virginia Woolf are not appropriate.
i don't have a problem with the somewhat indulgent style of writing. But I do have a problem with he lack of a plot compounded by the absence of any characters that I could feel any emotional interest in.
Mrs Dalloway has no real plot - apart from fixing up the house for a party. But by the end of the book the reader feels a real connection with Mrs D.
In Bradshaw it was all a bit vague and out there. Not one of the characters engaged my sympathies. I didn't really care what happened to this bunch of self interested,limited, dull, middle class people. I suppose I should feel sympathy that they are trapped in this bubble, but isn't it the authors job to encourage me to feel that sympathy if that's what she wants.
'What is art?' is asked a couple of times. But no real attempt is made to answer the question.
There were some interesting insights into how peoples adult selves is subconciously defined by their upbringing and their relations with their parents. But these alone, in my opinion , are not enough to carry a novel.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really wanted to like this book, as I've read a number of good reviews of it. But I found the way it was written terribly difficult to like. Dialogue is practically absent during the first section, and instead there's just rather grim descriptions of some rather grim people, that are so lengthy and wordy I wanted to scream. I have to admit that I gave up before the end. Life is just too short to read about such unpleasant people. I did think, though, that Cusk was clearly trying to achieve a particular effect, and that I just didn't get it. Others may well feel differently, and the book is certainly a good and accurate description of middle-class family life in a certain area of quite posh London. I just didn't like it.
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2009
This is the first work of fiction that I have read by Rachel Cusk, but I have recently read 'The Last Summer' an account of time spent with her family in Italy, which I greatly enjoyed.

When I read the first chapter or so of 'The Bradshaw Variations' I must admit to thinking 'oh no, not another tale of middle-class angst', but I quickly became ensnared by the lives of the family around whom this story revolves.

I struggled with the first few chapters in part because of the language - Ms Cusk does tend to gild the lily on occassion. However subsequent chapters are less clunky, perhaps her editor has done a better job here.

Indeed , chapter fourteen, where a mother and father make a visit to the house of their adult daughter, her husband and child, contains the best writing I have read in contemporary fiction for years.
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VINE VOICEon 24 September 2009
I think perhaps Rachel Cusk has been taking creative writing classes. Each week she's written a piece about a family to exhibit her descriptive skills. I'm sure she got high marks for that. At the end of the year's classes she's then put all the pieces together in a book. There's lots of description there of the highest quality, but it doesn't really join together and there is no overall picture, story or concept that emerges. If anything it reads as a gossipy account of family life, a rather arty, intellectual and literary piece of curtain twitching. At times the descriptions engaged me, but more often I was bored, and although it's a slim novel I found myself struggling to finish.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is no doubt that Rachel Cusk writes very well but ultimately this book was not for me and it actually took me a concerted effort and several weeks to finish it. The style of writing in the present tense but in a passive way made me feel remote from the characters, rather as if the story was taking place behind a glass partition. Also all the characters had faintly depressing lives and often shallow characters, which may be realistic for their type - upper middle class - but didn't draw me in. I want to read something exciting, dramatic, funny, quirky or inspiring and this wasn't it.
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VINE VOICEon 14 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The raison d'etre of this book is evident; the lives of ordinary people are interesting. The book centres around the Bradshaw family; three brothers, their spouses and their aged parents. The three brothers have ploughed their own furrow in life yet it is clear that their upbringing has had a profound affect on the way they think and interact with each other and with those around them. The wives chosen by each brother reflect their individuality. Each chapter in the book deals with the particular life and point of view of a member of the family. The author provides us with insights into the thoughts and actions of individuals and the ways in which hidden insecurity can influence their reactions in the most commonplace situations. For example, Leo the youngest of the brothers goes shopping for a coat. He enters the men's department in a store and eavesdrops on the interaction between a rather dominant woman and the man she is with. She is making all the decisions for this unfortunate man and Leo feels intimidated by it and leaves only to return later when he realises his folly. The author identifies the minute fascinations of the mundane; a journey on a train, a piano lesson, taking a child to school, helping a parent to clear the loft and conversations over a drink in the pub. In this respect there is little narrative drive but this is not the author's intention. Cusk focuses upon the internal life of the characters and intends to create a sense of the complexity of the interior life of her characters even within the context of domestic minutiae. This she undoubtedly achieves with some success. However, the preponderance of inconsequential detail and the lack of narrative thrust lends the novel the air of a stylistic exercise. It is clearly not a Dan Brown- style thrill ride, nor is meant to be. It is a literary novel and is beautifully, at times poetically written, but, ultimately, this reviewer was left wondering, "So what?"
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