That day when all good Brownies and Cubs wore their uniform to school and thought about all the other Brownies and Cubs around the world wearing their uniform to school.
Here's me in mine just to make you smile on a Monday morning, I still don't suit a beret and that's the end of any further Baden Powell connection as far as I can see with the rest of today's post and with apologies to Rachel Cusk for the digression.
With the emphasis in the title laid fairly and squarely at the door of my self-taught musical know-how, it was going to be a challenge, three weeks after I had finished the book, to see if the melody of The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk (published by Faber & Faber) had lingered long in my mind. I had made plenty of notes but it's checking out that permanence which seems like the ultimate test of a good read.
Easing back into the book very gently I started with Bach-Goldberg and set off to find a definitive musical meaning for 'variations' and came across this which seemed to fit very comfortably with what I feel sure had been Rachel Cusk's intention with the book,
'Variation - The manipulation of a theme by the use of melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic changes.'
The Goldberg Variations I discover written by Bach as a favour for a sleepless count who wanted clavier pieces to cheer him up through those desolate hours of night waking.
Thomas Bradshaw, his partner Antonia Swan and their daughter Alexa live a comfortable life recently turned on its head when Antonia, offered a head of department post at the local university becomes the higher wage earner. It seems to make sense for Thomas to take on the role of house-husband, the role reversal effectively leaving Toni playing first violin and Thomas rattling away over in percussion, but in reality taking piano lessons.
The problem with this slight score change is who is doing the conducting?
The music analogies flow gently through the book and even for an amateur like me it wasn't difficult to draw them into play as I read, and as the extended Family Bradshaw and some Family Swan are brought into the mix, Rachel Cusk brings in those notes of dissonance and disharmony that had me rising to the musical task. I was reading and marvelling at the whole idea of hanging a novel around such a fruitful metaphor and apologies if I may have made it all seem a bit too trite and obvious, but you know me and words.
Rachel Cusk pulls it off with a poised and controlled elegance, there is subtlety and grace to her writing, light and shade, changes in rhythm, pauses, interludes and the occasional reminder in case I hadn't cottoned on or had missed something,
'...Claudia's part, like the melody from another section of the orchestra...'
I almost wish those prompts hadn't been in the book because I had spotted the allusions long before and was off on a frolic fuelled by my own seemingly brilliant and original thoughts...thinking 'ah yes disonnance brewing here' and then turned the page to find,
'...she is filled with sound: she is a composer creating a dissonant symphony..'
which left my brilliance well and truly pricked to the point of writing 'Lo! It is so! ' in my copy and giving Rachel Cusk full credit for it once I'd got over my sulk.
Even cleaning the house becomes a symphony...or is it a concerto?
Which ever, the hoover is in harmony with the tap dripping and the dishwasher churning and the squeaking window cloth syncopates in with it all. There's astute attention to detail here too, the smallest and most insignificant grace notes, those imperceptible life moments invested with a heightened and acutely perceived awareness.
Moments I could strangely identify with, buying something in a shop and wearing it home and the wrong feel of that old garment folded neatly by the shop assistant and carried out of the shop in the new bag because you've already fallen out of love with it.
Young Alexa's moment of distraction in the classroom so vivid it had me right back in Green Class with Miss Glasscock (yes really) or was it Blue Class with Miss Butteriss (Miss Butterdish) and my ongoing feud with the boy I shared a table with, always so accomplished at dropping me right in it ... now a consultant paediatrician so I'd best not name.
The three generational Bradshaw family who when playing their single line sound slightly out of tune, put them all together and if you can get them all in the same key then perhaps, just perhaps, a degree of harmony will prevail and I warmed to them all, with their habits and their eccentricities, their traditional roles, the efforts at emancipation, and the grand finale about which of course my lips are sealed.
Kate Kellaway argues in The Guardian that
"This novel could not have been written if Virginia Woolf had never put pen to paper. In a sense, it is a modern Mrs Dalloway..."
and on reflection I can see that and how I wish I'd known so before I read; the melody has faded a fraction too much now for me to create that Mrs Dalloway harmony with any accuracy, but I can see it's there.