The Bradshaw Variations

Cusk's sixth novel explores marriage and parenthood through the lives of the three Bradshaw brothers and their families. Its main focus falls on the middle brother, Thomas Bradshaw, who has recently become a stay-at-home father, taking piano lessons while his wife, Toni, returns to work. The prose is poised, but, in its deliberately intellectual style, can be oddly detached - Toni, for example, "has entered the phase of atemporality between childbearing and visible decay".

Cusk's descriptions are often insightful, attempting to give a full sense of the character's humanity. However, the constant drive to analyse apparently mundane events and invest them with metaphysical significance, from a piano lesson to collecting the kids from school, can be wearing. The characters continuously consider the significance of the smallest events, their voices merging with that of the narrator. Buying a new coat, Leo Bradshaw feels that “all the world's randomness seems constantly to be incarnated in these millions of orphaned garments". This is certainly a very intelligent book, but at times it feels as though all the thinking has been done for you.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the new progressives