The Bradshaw Variations

Rachel Cusk

The Bradshaw Variations

Since leaving his job to look after Alexa, his eight year old daughter, Thomas Bradshaw has found the structure of his daily piano practice and the study of musical form brings a nourishment to these difficult middle years. His pursuit of a more artistic way of life shocks and irritates his parents and his in-laws. Why has he swapped roles with Tonie Swann, his intense, intellectual wife who has accepted a demanding full-time University job? How can this be good for Alexa and for the family as a whole? Tonie tunes herself out of domestic life, into the harder, headier world of work where long-since forgotten memories of herself are awakened. She soon finds herself outside their tight family circle and alive to previously unimaginable possibilities. Over the course of a year full of crisis and revelation, we follow the fortunes of Thomas, Tonie, his brothers and their families: Howard, the older, more successful brother and his gregarious wife Claudia; and Leo, lacking confidence, propped up by Susie, his sharp-tongued, heavy-drinking wife. At the head of the family, the aging Bradshaw parents continue their marital dynamic of bickering and petty undermining. 3.9 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
The Bradshaw Variations

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 256
RRP £15.99
Date of Publication September 2009
ISBN 978-0571233588
Publisher Faber & Faber
 

Since leaving his job to look after Alexa, his eight year old daughter, Thomas Bradshaw has found the structure of his daily piano practice and the study of musical form brings a nourishment to these difficult middle years. His pursuit of a more artistic way of life shocks and irritates his parents and his in-laws. Why has he swapped roles with Tonie Swann, his intense, intellectual wife who has accepted a demanding full-time University job? How can this be good for Alexa and for the family as a whole? Tonie tunes herself out of domestic life, into the harder, headier world of work where long-since forgotten memories of herself are awakened. She soon finds herself outside their tight family circle and alive to previously unimaginable possibilities. Over the course of a year full of crisis and revelation, we follow the fortunes of Thomas, Tonie, his brothers and their families: Howard, the older, more successful brother and his gregarious wife Claudia; and Leo, lacking confidence, propped up by Susie, his sharp-tongued, heavy-drinking wife. At the head of the family, the aging Bradshaw parents continue their marital dynamic of bickering and petty undermining.

Reviews

The Financial Times

Julie Myerson

Not only was I affected and moved, but at times I just wanted to punch the air in a frenzy of delighted recognition... This isn’t the first novel of Cusk’s to make me laugh out loud, but it is the first to have really moved me. She is a shatteringly precise writer. Her ear for dialogue, for the lazy platitudes of human interaction, for the pointless vacuousness of material status, is frighteningly sharp.

14/09/2009

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The Observer

Kate Kellaway

This novel could not have been written if Virginia Woolf had never put pen to paper. In a sense, it is a modern Mrs Dalloway. Like Mrs Dalloway, it considers convention and wildness. It wants to know the truth about love, especially middle-aged, married love. It finds uncertain answers and a clutch of further questions. I enjoyed everything about this dazzling performance of a book. I was engrossed, entertained and converted (all reservations about pretentiousness overcome). This, Rachel Cusk's seventh novel, is her best.

13/09/2009

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The Guardian

Hilary Mantel

...the musical references are insistent, as if Cusk thought they were what would hold the novel together; but what holds it together is the skewering quality of her observation... It is the author's mix of scorn and compassion that is so bracing. Sometimes she complicates simple things, snarling them in a cat's cradle of abstraction, but just as often, a sentence rewards with its absolute and unexpected precision.

29/08/2009

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The Literary Review

Kate Saunders

Rachel Cusk’s writing is so beautiful that I would happily read her account of a trip to the shops on a rainy morning – which is just as well, since this will probably be what she is writing about... She’s like a very cynical Jane Austen, or Virginia Woolf without the verbiage, or Posy Simmonds without the broader comedy. The air of this novel is not always likeable, but it is amazingly clear-eyed, observant and truthful.

01/09/2009

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The Daily Mail

Stephanie Cross

Cusk's novels tend not to progress, so much as return to and deepen central themes. Her characters are hard to warm to, viewing others as instruments to be played, and such is the chill, smooth elegance of Cusk's style that her narrative verges on the sterile: humour - acid, coarsening - comes as a relief. Nevertheless, the discomforting minor key she strikes here is compelling, and the execution impeccable.

10/09/2009

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The Scotsman

Claire Sawers

Cusk shows endless flair for magnifying the telltale minutiae of day-to-day life and showing what glues families together. Her weakness, on the other hand, is a tendency to detour away from her elegant, intelligent writing with obtuse ponderings and pseudo-philosophical musings... What is far more successful is when she takes one of her solid, cliché-free characters and observes them going about the business of mowing a lawn, or playing the social butterfly at a drinks event, without signposting what the reader should be picking up.

09/08/2009

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Times Literary Supplement

Caroline Miller

Cusk's is writing that tends to read from the particular to the universal; its delicacy and thoughtfulness are undone when it over-reaches into a questionable assertion: “it is in the nature of irony to cherish something unironic at its core”, concludes a witty description of Howard and Claudia’s ironic pride in a vulgar acquisition – certainly true in this particular case, but is it also definitive?

11/09/2009

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The Sunday Times

Sophie Harrison

The book would be very funny comedy if it weren’t striving so earnestly to be serious. And the rumination levels are such that it’s hard for it to generate momentum.

06/09/2009

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The New Statesman

Samira Shackle

Cusk's descriptions are often insightful, attempting to give a full sense of the character's humanity. However, the constant drive to analyse apparently mundane events and invest them with metaphysical significance, from a piano lesson to collecting the kids from school, can be wearing... Buying a new coat, Leo Bradshaw feels that “all the world's randomness seems constantly to be incarnated in these millions of orphaned garments". This is certainly a very intelligent book, but at times it feels as though all the thinking has been done for you.

03/09/2009

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The Independent

James Urquhart

The Bradshaws' ruminations by-pass clear, introspective soul-searching, pooling into heavier passages of numinous prose. After the hard-nosed domestic entropy of Cusk's enthralling novels like In The Fold or her memoirs on motherhood, this is deflating, congesting. The core problem is not the fondness for amorphous pontification, which Cusk is mostly a strong enough writer to carry easily; it's the contrived role and feeble, self-absorbed character of Thomas.

11/09/2009

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