This deep, dark story resonates with familial love, exposing the deep heart of racism and a cultural identity that is especially poignant in today`s United Kingdom. A somewhat cynical mistrustful soul. Keith Gordon has reached a time and a place that is forcing him to question his life so far. The son of West Indian immigrants, with a teenage son, Keith works as a policy officer cum social worker for a local government agency that specializes in developing assimilation and equality programs for London's immigrant and women's communities. But Keith has had a bit of a problem finding his feet of late. His professional life has become an administrative nightmare, especially since the merging of his department with "Disability and Women's Affairs" and he feels that it's longer possible to go back to his flat early and work on his book on the history of jazz. He's also been having an affair with Yvette. a young research assistant, who likes to take charge, with an enthusiasm that is almost theatrical.
Even as Keith must cope with a familiar entanglement of female feelings of guilt and vulnerability, his ex-wife Annabelle has been leaving him urgent messages about his teenage son Laurie, and the problems he's experiencing at school as Annabelle is convinced that he's fallen in with what she likes to call the wrong set. While Annabelle insists that their 17 year old son is growing increasingly "bolshy" on her, it is unclear what Annabelle expects him to do about it. After all, Laurie seems somewhat indifferent to the idea of spending any time with his father. Since their separation thee years ago, Annabelle has made it her business to carefully construct a steely façade around her emotions as a way of distancing herself from Keith. He now lives alone in a small flat in Wilton Road, wracked with guilt and still not sure what he told Annabelle about sleeping with another coworker at an office retreat: "it was nothing encounter, semi-drunken, and not pleasurable in the least."
As Keith relates his past and disillusionment with his life so far, the journey that has brought him to this place and time, Phillips attempts to paint a portrait of the profound changes Keith has experienced and how he has come to be in this fractured state. Pages of detailed description blend together, creating memory - that of the animosity of Annabelle's parents who live deep in the heart of Wiltshire, a world that her husband and who had helped her escape from, especially her father, a cruel quasi-racist military man "who hides behind the civilized gentility of tea." But Keith also battles with his memories of Brenda the woman who would have been sympathetic to the recent decisions and mistakes he'd made in his life, and of Earl his father, who came to England in the 1960's. Earl is like his son, an unpredictable man who does battle with his demons a one time "sons of Empire, just one the men who came to this country to make a life better for themselves."
Temporarily cut loose from his moorings, and beyond the occasional fits and spurts of attention that he pays to his book, Keith becomes obsessed with Danuta, a recent Polish immigrant who is learning English but is more content to fall rapid into an angry silence. And then an incident at work where the entire correspondence including his appreciation of Yvette's attentiveness in bed is sent to everybody in his department changes everything for Keith. Honed in on all fronts Keith, filled with cynicism, questions the futility of his dreams and the danger of delusion. Keith is complex and real, but he's also frustratingly shortsighted, especially when he finds it hard to keep his cool. Set against the gloomy and silent streets of West London with the early winter gusts, a city that has made peace with the Pound shops and Somali run internet cafes, this beautifully nuanced and provocative story abounds with a silent and simmering racial tension. Keith remains a man on the edge has he desperately tries to reach out to his son and his father in his journey of painful self-discovery. Mike Leonard September 09.