The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk: a Book Review

I expected  The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk to be much better than it is. It begins well, and every now and then I thought this is really good, but at times it seems to get lost in itself. It’s about the life of a family – the Bradshaws, mainly concentrating on Thomas and his wife Tonie – over the course of a year. Not a lot happens on the surface but underneath everyone’s life is in turmoil and change.

Thomas is the middle brother. Howard is his older brother, married to Claudia; Leo, is his younger brother married to Susie. We also meet his parents and Tonie’s parents. The book is a series of episodes in their lives, both individually and collectively. It’s a mixture of straight forward narrative about their daily lives, interspersed with interesting reflections on such themes as what is real/unreal/artificial, what is the value and nature of success, what is art, the duality of character, the question of work/home balance, women going out to work versus staying at home, progress, the impossibility of perfection, the nature of love, the importance of wanting what you have and of avoiding not wanting what you have and so on and so forth.

 Thomas, the house-husband, is learning to play the piano whilst he is at home looking after Alexa, their eight-year old daughter, and much of the description of him has a musical theme – he is a “symphony” crashing about. Tonie, getting on with her career, seems a very negative character, usually dressed all in black and uncertain of what she wants from life. The crisis comes when Alexa falls ill and Thomas has to cope on his own. Howard and Claudia are muddling along with their three children and Skittle, their little dog and their crisis comes as they are preparing to go away on holiday – I found this chapter one of the most “real” in the book, describing the “ordeal” of it all.

My overall impression of it is that although it’s intense, it’s also emotionally detached; the characters are well drawn for the most part, but just as I was getting involved with them, the narrative moved away.

(The Bradshaw Variations – an Uncorrected Proof copy supplied by LibraryThing Early Reviewer Programme)

8 thoughts on “The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk: a Book Review

  1. I really shouldn’t read reviews before I have finished a book! – I also got a LibraryThing review copy and am only slowly getting through this book. As your review seems to suggest, it’s not a really bad book, but somehow it doesn’t particularly grab you. I will persevere but your review seems to sum up my feelings so far.


  2. I knew I should know this name and a quick search of Amazon brought up ‘Arlington Park’ which I remember being short/long? listed for some award. What I was surprised by was how much else she’s written and that I’d never come across it. Have you read anything else my her and if so, how does this measure up? If worse, then maybe I’ll try her. If better, then possibly not!


  3. I have several books by her, though I’ve yet to read any of them. May take a miss on this one. It does sound promising, but doesn’t quite follow through?


  4. I love Rachel Cusk’s books, and I was loving ‘The Bradshaw Variations’ until the author fell into the cowardly cliche of killing an animal character rather than a human one. My husband pointed out to me some time ago how authors often do this. They introduce an animal, with the only purpose of killing them, often horribly.

    So, while I think most of this is brilliant and well up there with Rachel Cusk’s other best work, I found the ending predictable and disappointing. Badly done, Ms Cusk!


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