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The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk

A year in the life of the Bradshaws – three brothers, their ageing parents and their families. Firstly, there’s middle brother Thomas who has taken a year’s sabbatical to learn the piano, his wife Tonie who has been promoted and back at work full-time, and daughter Alexa. Older brother Howard is successful and impulsive, wife Claudia likes to be busy which keeps her in excuses for not going into her studio cum shed to paint. Then there’s Leo, the youngest who’s rather insecure, and his heavy-drinking wife Susie. Behind them are their parents who constantly bicker.

This is a stylised novel in which to quote Tolstoy, “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It is predominantly told from Thomas’ point of view, house-husband and musician-manqué, and the author uses many musical metaphors to describe his part. Tonie, his wife however is so aloof, she’s almost not there, until crisis comes. The episode near the end involving Howard’s family and their unloved dog Skittle was hilariously awful and in its drama, does much to leaven the intensity of this chronicle of middle-class family life which can be very close to the bone.

I felt the book was trying too hard to be clever, and ended up rather suffering in its detachment – funnily I remember feeling similarly about The Travelling Horn Player by Barbara Trapido when I read that a few years ago, (it also has a musical theme running through it), although it had a more interesting cast of characters.

(Book supplied by Librarything Early Reviewers programme, 6.5/10)

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