With a razor-like zeal, Rachel Cusk cuts right to the heart of her English middle-class
suburban characters, relishing in their brutal, acerbic, often unhappy marriages as they struggle to raise their children while burdened with work, sex, love, and the misplaced hopes and beliefs of others. There’s a fanatical need to hold on to a sense of class for these people.
Thomas and Tonie Bradshaw and their daughter, Alexa, live
on picaresque Montague Street, a suburb of “grandeur and ruination” just an hour’s drive from London. Of late, Thomas and Tonie have been drifting apart. Tonie has been appointed to a new job of a university English department, and her work
now spreads around Alexa’s presences and Thomas’s absences.
Thomas is a stay-at-home dad, taking piano lessons in the afternoons while exacting his promise to be more attentive to Alexa. While Thomas is as “beautifully turned as a musical instrument,” Tonie
grows increasingly frustrated, wanting to impose her will on him. Going to work on the train, she looks at men and yearns for self-expression, perhaps something more than Thomas can offer. Obviously this couple is going through an
adjustment process, as though life has simply hardened around them in all its new forms.
Other Bradshaws appear: Thomas’s brother Howard, his wife, Claudia, and their three children
live a mile or so away. Howard annoys everyone with his jesting nature, while Claudia cuts like a knife with her caustic judgments. Both are terribly bourgeois,
regaling their visitors with stories of new heights of tastelessness - "the outdoor Jacuzzis and the obscene statuary."
Cusk imbues this people with an intemperate cruelty and a kind of fierce neurosis. I’m not sure I particularly care about the Bradshaw brothers, their wives, or any of the other people
who circle their lives. I did feel some compassion when an illness shakes everyone up, and we see Tonie and Thomas move forward into a future as full and fluid as the past appeared desiccated and fixed.
The author is a master of metaphor, digging deep into her characters’ inner lives while exposing their
endless capacity for undisclosed suffering. Still, their repressive passions, staunchness, and selfish ways of loving ultimately left me rather bored and uninspired. I’m a fan of Rachel Cusk’s work, and here she certainly posits some compelling themes
- the right way to live, the value of success, what it means to love - yet the memories of the Bradshaws' trials are short-lived, ultimately translating into something tiresome and forgettable.