The Bradshaw Variations Paperback – 4 Feb 2010
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'At times I just wanted to punch the air in a frenzy of delighted recognition.' --Julie Myerson, Financial Times
'I enjoyed everything about this dazzling performance of a book. This, Rachel Cusk's seventh novel, is her best.' --Kate Kellaway, Observer
'Cusk is mercilessly acute in her dissection of the Bradshaw family. Their failures are exposed by her scalpel prose. *****' --Telegraph
'Her interiors whisper and shiver, as if Virginia Woolf had flitted through .. the author's mix of concern and compassion..is...bracing' --Hilary Mantel, Guardian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From award-winning novelist Rachel Cusk, comes an incisive and commercial contemporary family novel.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The issue is that the book tries to answer that question by wringing interest out of the sorts of things you would rather not hear about. The book is very eloquent (well - in fact - it xan be quite verbose) but it sort of feels like one of those half-hour mum-phone-monologues about the terrible things that are going on at the neighbour's place, although perhaps on a day where she is channelling the spirit of Virginia Woolf.
Despite a number of very evocative passages and a strong thread of ambition throughout the whole novel, I did find it a bit of a chore. I would hope to see another book by Cusk sometime soon though; I'd like to see her turn away from mundanity and try her hand at some full-on exuberance; I think she'd be good at it.
I'd assumed from the title that the book would trace the contrasts and links between the different branches of the Bradshaw family, but in fact one set of characters - the middle brother, Thomas, his wife Tonie and their fragile daughter Alexa - get much more attention than the others, and often the focus in the other families is on the wives rather than their husbands, so clearly Rachel Cusk is not particularly interested in the effect of genetic inheritance and upbringing here. What works brilliantly are her observations of people and their interactions. The novel is very short, and often characters are presented in only a few lines or pages, but Cusk manages to pinion each personality exactly - from the youngest brother Leo's expedition to buy a coat, to the oldest brother Howard's wife Claudia's insistence on having a `studio' in her garden for her `work', which in fact she never enters.
However, despite Cusk's obvious talent, this is a very difficult novel to warm to. Her previous book, `Arlington Park', which I enjoyed very much, was similarly observational, but far more compulsive as the author illuminated the common predicaments of her five female characters. I didn't really feel any desire to read on here, as I sympathised with very few of the Bradshaws. Thomas, although hapless, is perhaps the most human, and his basic decency but overall weakness is beautifully illustrated in the chapter concerning the beginning of his relationship with Tonie. As he already had a girlfriend, Clare, when the two met, Tonie recalls how they would take long walks along the river trying to work out how he would leave Clare, but if she tried to make any advances he would avert his face - to avoid being `unfaithful'. To Tonie, this seems symbolic of their relationship as a whole: `She wants to remind him of all that caution and concern he went in for by the river. She wants to draw his attention to the fact that once, when it mattered, he stinted Tonie's share.'
The development of Thomas and Tonie as characters, however, contrasts with the rather skimpy treatment of the other families in the novel, who, although precisely depicted, never exactly spring to life. I was left with the feeling that Cusk would have done better to focus entirely on just this set of Bradshaws, or to write something much longer. In the end, I admired her skill, but the book leaves little impression. For a better example of her work, I would recommend reading the more focused `Arlington Park' or even `In the Fold'.
Thomas has time to think, time to learn to play the piano now that his wife has taken on a full time job and he has become a house husband. Rachel Cusk continues her exploration of middleclass misery and angst in this novel. Each section changes the point of view - probably a few too many times in terms of real character development. Yes, it adds insight to see Tonie's mother's view of Tonie and her family, but not if that character is herself reduced to a cipher.
The novel is 250 pages or so and it isn't until pages 200 that the pace picks up and at that point I was fully engaged, though underwhelmed ultimately by the ending. There is humour - Claudia is a funny creation, a martyr to her family, who never gets to her studio to create her art, but the same joke is repeated too many times. There is some good dialogue, for example when Tonie and Janine have their morning coffee and if there were more of that then the book would have caused me to care more about the characters. Rachel Cusk is often at her best when she marries her sharp observation with her more caustic wit - in this novel I felt the lack of both.
Rachel Cusk can write very well but The Bradshaw Variations is a very consciously 'written' book. The images can be arresting - but hardly seem effortless and seem to be at the expense of any tension or plot.
I found the characters got lost in all the writing. They sit in the great web of it, unable to move much under the great weight of metaphor which ultimately left a great coldness around them. I never felt any attachment to these mostly unsympathetic, dislikeable people and didn't really care what happened to any of them.
Which is not to say I didn't enjoy the book, I did, but it's a writer's book; a book for those who love language and appreciate literate writing for its own sake. I wouldn't take it to read on the train or a plane, it needs time and space and undisturbed peace to fully appreciate this unusual and quietly remarkable book.
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i don't have a problem with the somewhat indulgent style of writing.Read more