Customer Review

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and accomplished - but I didn't enjoy reading it, 24 Aug. 2009
This review is from: The Bradshaw Variations (Hardcover)
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Cusk has won numerous awards but while I thought this was an elegant and accomplished novel, it was one which I personally didn't enjoy reading. More or less plotless it explores the failed expectations and emotionless emptiness of the very middle-class Bradshaw family. The petty power struggles between husbands and wives are depicted in a narrative that switches between the various members of the Bradshaws, and the book itself is constructed from the accumulation of little points of life.

Everyone in this world is effectively isolated, living in their own head and disconnected from the world around them. Cusk's vision is one where people are nearly all thought, emotionless and passionless. At one point someone tells the story of a man stabbed in the street and how passers by call an ambulance but no-one speaks to the victim himself who might be dying, and only Leo Bradshaw is shocked by this, only he can even envisage an alternative, an actual moment of human communication.

Overall this is a very literary novel that I admired but didn't like: it depicts the bleakness of modern middle-class existence and the essential disconnectedness of human relations, but fundamentally I disagree with this vision of life. The writing style is elegant and fastidious but always self-consciously literary: similes and metaphors sometimes felt over-stretched to me, and deliberately insert themselves between text and reader so that we are never allowed to forget that this is constructed fiction we are reading. This reminded me of Hilary Mantel, undoubtedly intelligent yet also very cold and detached. I've given this 4* because I think it achieves what the author intended but it isn't a novel I liked.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Feb 2010 21:19:46 GMT
Eileen Shaw says:
I concur with your reaction to this novel and novelist - as with all Rachel Cusk's books I find there is something missing - almost as if she treats writing as a 'problem' to be overcome, nailed down and done with. There is very little emotional engagement with the characters. I think you put it very well in your review when you said you disagreed with her vision of life.
However, I wouldn't agree that Hilary Mantel is similarly cold and detached at all. I find HM is much wittier, much more clued into the zeitgeist and also a hell of a lot more fun.

Posted on 15 Sep 2010 11:51:58 BDT
I agree with Roman Clodia. It was well written, interesting and made some good points about the world, but it wasn't any fun at all! I'd rather read this than chick-lit any day, but I did sometimes wish it's tone was a bit lighter.
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