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The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk

The Bradshaw Variations (2009)

by Rachel Cusk

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1602274,566 (3.21)13



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In The Bradshaw Variations, Cusk excels at depicting relationships both with others and with oneself, exploring power dynamics in marriages and parenting, and negotiating the authentic with the artificial. The copious music theory references in the beginning of the novel, meant to drive home the connection between its vignette-type structure and the musical origins of the title, were tiresome and felt forced. Luckily, Cusk abandoned these inclusions quickly, instead opting to incorporate references relating to music performance which served wonderfully as metaphors for the performance of gender as well as the performance of the “myth of their own life.” Though sparse with action, The Bradshaw Variations is a compelling study of character and interpersonal dynamics. ( )
  verkakte | Oct 17, 2015 |
Vignettes of family life over the course of a year make up this novel. It follows some of the events to affect the relationships of the Bradshaw family, in building a picture of the three different generations in the family and explores not only the feelings between the generations, but those within each age group.
However, I found the writing less than engaging. This meant that although the developments for the family members did follow a natural course within the novel, the characters seemed somewhat distanced and I was unable to engender much feeling and concern for them.
  camharlow2 | Apr 30, 2015 |

Usually, I don't like and try to avoid books that are just about stuff. Books that are just about people's lives but are magnificently well written are not my usual read. I must have been in the right frame of mind today because I really enjoyed this book. For example, Jonathan Franzen's style is very similar to Cusk's, but not once during this book did I want to throw it across the room and refuse to finish it. Unlike Franzen, Cusk's characters are full - they have a round, three-dimensional quality to them that makes them pop off the page.

Check out my full review at: http://abookofadifferentcolor.blogspot.com ( )
  JHolsclaw | Mar 16, 2011 |
I always know what I’m getting into with a Rachel Cusk novel – lots of high brow musing, a sort of intellectualising of everyday life, and some moments that speak perfect truth about families and the way people interact. This book was no exception. The only difficulty I find is that for every moment of crystal-clarity there are paragraphs of musings that I could not comprehend even if I had several lifetimes in which to ponder over them.

Similar to Arlington Park in its obsessive analysis and fearsome – sometimes off-putting – intelligence, The Bradshaw Variations focuses on the members of a family, shining its spotlight on each of them for brief periods. The chapters are shorter, though, so if the thread is lost it is easy to start anew a few pages later.
Though the central focus is on a husband and wife who have agreed on a role reversal with him becoming a house-husband, these were the characters I found hardest to understand, picture or like. Far better were the brother and sister-in-law Howard and Claudia, and their dog who frankly stole the show. ( )
  jayne_charles | Dec 30, 2010 |
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Although a little of such stuff goes a long way for me, I do in fact quite enjoy the occasional literary-oriented novel, one that eschews plot developments almost entirely to instead exist as merely a complex character study; take for example veteran character author Rachel Cusk's latest, The Bradshaw Variations, which is not much more than a probing look at an upper-middle-class British family whose spouses spend a year switching roles (the full-time mom enters the world of academic senior management, while the corporate dad spends a year re-engaging in his youthful passion for classical piano), and what kind of effect this has on the family in general, which by extension becomes a look at what the lives are like of their related siblings and their own upper-middle-class British families. As such, then, it's not really Cusk's point to have a lot of stuff "happen," and those who need such a thing in their novels will be profoundly disappointed with this one; it's instead a dense look at the multiple layers of personality that make up each of these fully-realized people, which by the end becomes a deep slice-of-life look at what being a Western middle-classer in the early 2000s is really all about in the first place. A great pick for those who like their literature academic and slow-moving in nature, but that should absolutely be avoided by everyone else.

Out of 10: 8.6 ( )
1 vote jasonpettus | Aug 5, 2010 |
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Luisteren. Is nl. een radio-recensie.
Rachel Cusk is een van de interessantste schrijfsters van dit moment, en misschien ook wel een van de meest deprimerende. Interessant vanwege de intelligente manier waarop ze schrijft over de intieme betrekkingen tussen vrouwen en mannen, ouders en kinderen, en deprimerend om dezelfde reden. Dat laatste is meteen ook het enige wat er in te brengen is tégen haar werk: ze is wel heel erg ernstig, en somber. Haar vorige roman, Arlington Park (2006), was om die reden moeilijk uit te lezen. De blik waarmee ze hierin haar ogenschijnlijk geslaagde vrouwelijke personages naar hun respectievelijke mannen laat kijken, agressief en tegelijkertijd gelaten, is eentonig koud. Het feit dat de vrouwen zelf uit opportunisme de verhoudingen in stand houden, maakt de boel er niet opwekkender op, maar wel dubbelzinniger. Alle mannen kunnen dan wel moordenaars zijn – ‘Ze nemen een vrouw en geleidelijk aan vermoorden ze haar’ –, je kunt van tijd tot tijd wel fijn tegen ze aan leunen. Er zijn geen daders en slachtoffers, we’re into this together, en het is de vraag of er iets anders mogelijk is.
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"There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself."
- J. S. Bach
"[Bach] taught us how to find originality within an established discipline; actually - how to live."
- Jean Paul Sartre
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What is art? Thomas Bradshaw asks himself this question frequently.
It strikes her now that life is not linear, a journey, a passage, but a static process of irreversible accretion. It is perspective that moves, passing over it all like the sun, now illuminating, now casting into shadow. The angle changes, the relation of one thing to another, the proportion of dark to light; but experience itself is block-like, is cumulative and fixed.
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The novel reveals how our choices, our loves, and the family life we build will always be an echo -- a variation -- of a theme played out in our own childhood.

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