The Bradshaw Variations, By Rachel Cusk

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Rachel Cusk's seventh novel is a wise and witty dissection of family life over three generations. Tonie has accepted a promotion to work full-time as head of department at a university; her husband Thomas has become a house husband, looking after their daughter, Alexa, and learning to play the piano; Thomas's embittered elderly parents bicker and snipe at each other and everyone else. We see and feel how wives look to husbands, husbands to wives, brothers to brothers, parents to children, children to parents, teacher to children, friends to friends.

Cusk combines thought and feeling effortlessly, and her style is elegant, laconic, musical. (I bet it makes a wonderful audio-book.) Every description is pin-sharp and hyperreal, from how it feels to be alone in a suburban house in the afternoon or how it feels to commit adultery to how it feels to see your daughter stricken with meningitis. Every chapter is beautifully crafted and the one in which Thomas's younger brother buys himself a coat would make a superb short story in its own right. Subtle, perceptive, moving, full of observations that make one sigh, laugh or cringe with recognition, this is a tour de force.

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