The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk

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The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A random but rather enjoyable tale, this book focuses on how we inevitably return to the ways of our childhood, repeating the cycle with our own offspring and the generations to come.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571233588

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This book is both very odd and very interesting in equal measure, because it manages to fill thirty two chapters without much of a plot and yet is still an engaging read. Admittedly, there are various little snippets of information that pad it out, and small events that are written up, but for the most part there is nothing you'd call an actual storyline per se.

The book follows the lives of the Bradshaw family - a couple, their grown up children and associated spouses, and the offspring. No two chapters are alike, and the changes in the characters being followed each time seem entirely random, with little continuity. It's almost as if someone asked the dozen or so people who feature to hand over extracts of their personal diaries, and then simply combined these extracts willy-nilly.

This is a book entirely about characters in both senses of the word, for the people who take roles in the book have distinct characteristics and traits unique to them: Thomas, a stay at home dad, fills his days with abstract questions on the nature of art; Alexa his precocious daughter is a social butterfly; Tonie, his ambitious wife, lets loose at the most inappropriate of times; Olga, their Polish lodger, no longer feels the need to belong, deducing that living will suffice.

One thing this book is keen on is indulgence. With no apparent need to keep things brief or focussed, we find entire chapters dedicated to the smallest things: a shopping trip to buy a coat, for example, or the memory of a former flame. It's neither a marathon nor a sprint, but a meandering wander through a year filled with crises and revelation. Nothing is rushed as the passages take us into the tiniest minutiae of often insignificant events, and yet you never get the feeling that you want people to hurry up and get to the good stuff, for this is the good stuff.

The splendour is in the details, the acute, shrewd observations of family life in all its guises. Though many of the topics are solemn – the accidental slaughtering of pets and serious childhood illnesses, for example – there is a subtle dark humour that permeates throughout. What's more, many of the situations described were so startlingly familiar to me, I wondered for a second whether Cusk was a close relative whose existence had slipped my mind. Happy families are all alike, but so, it seems, are weird, wacky, real ones.

I couldn't decide whether I liked the book or not, but in the end I did. It takes a while to 'get' as you wait for the story to start, but when it becomes clear it's never going to, you realise that's the beauty of it. It's all about the words and what they say, rather than the story and where it goes. Like a work of modern art, where the messages you get change every time you look at it based on your own interpretation, this is a book that will tell a different story every time you read.

Thanks go to the publishers for sending in this book.

This is perhaps a vaguely autobiographical novel. For a vaguely fabricated piece of non-fiction, why not consider Cusk's earlier work The Last Supper?

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Buy The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk at


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