Since leaving his job to look after Alexa, his eight year old daughter, Thomas Bradshaw has found the structure of his daily piano practice and the study of musical form brings a nourishment to these difficult middle years. His pursuit of a more artistic way of life shocks and irritates his parents and his in-laws. Why has he swapped roles with Tonie Swann, his intense, intellectual wife who has accepted a demanding full-time University job? How can this be good for Alexa and for the family as a whole?
Tonie tunes herself out of domestic life, into the harder, headier world of work where long-since forgotten memories of herself are awakened. She soon finds herself outside their tight family circle and alive to previously unimaginable possibilities.
Over the course of a year full of crisis and revelation, we follow the fortunes of Thomas, Tonie, his brothers and their families: Howard, the older, more successful brother and his gregarious wife Claudia; and Leo, lacking confidence, propped up by Susie, his sharp-tongued, heavy-drinking wife. At the head of the family, the ageing Bradshaw parents continue their marital dynamic of bickering and petty undermining.
The Bradshaw Variations is a powerful novel about how our choices and our loves and the family life we build will always be an echo - a variation - of a theme played out in our own childhood. The novel, Cusk's sixth , shows a prize-winning writer at the height of her powers.