Conforming to Philip Larkin's famously acidic sentiments about parenting, Maggie Gee's The White Family offers a bleak, but piercingly honest, portrait of an "ordinary" British family. The novel's patriarch, Alfred White, is a curmudgeonly London park keeper who has presided over both the park and his home-life for 40 years. A fan of "the good old days", his misty-eyed sentimentality is augmented with a racism of the unthinking kind. When he's struck down with a stroke his family are forced to come to terms with a life without him. For his gentle, bookish if submissive wife, May, loneliness is the greatest fear. However, Alfred's brand of fathering has left more painful legacies for their three children. Firstborn Darren, the golden child and now a successful journalist in America, still bitterly resents his father's beatings. Daughter Shirley, whose relationships with black men led to violent conflicts with Alfred, is more forgiving but no less damaged. The youngest child Dirk has absorbed his father's worst opinions and become a shaven-headed, misogynistic fascist.
Like Graham Swift's Last Orders, Gee makes judicious use of a multi-voiced narrative. This inventive structure provides a disturbingly intimate understanding of the emotions and prejudices of the Whites, while contributions from subsidiary figures such as Darren's childhood friend, the failed novelist Thomas Lovell, help to extend the vista beyond the immediate family. With the possible exception of Dirk, whose suppressed homosexuality is overblown, her characters are richly drawn; imbued with truly human strengths and failings. Dirk's venomous racist rants, which later spill into violence, are deeply shocking, but Gee's real achievement is to examine the more subtle and insidious forms of racism (and of homophobia) in British society today. --Travis Elborough
'There is much to admire in this novel, for it reminds us that racism not only devastates the lives of its victims, but also those of its perpetrators. Gee handles moments of anger gracefully, moving skilfully between compassion and disgust.' Heather Clark, TLS 'An unashamedly contemporary novel - a millenium novel - complex, many-layered and as readable and quickly satisfying as a television soap.' Melissa Benn, The Independent 'Tackles an unspeakable subject with quiet courage . . . illuminating and fiercely damning of racism and prejudice in all their forms.' Tina Jackson, The Big issue 'In her outstanding new novel, Maggie Gee has audited the multi-ethnic, murderous matter of everyday suburban life and rendered it tender, sexy and alarming.' Jim Crace 'Maggie Gee bravely explores the nuances of racism from the perspective of the perpetrators. The resulting work is a brilliant depiction of British society.' Bernardine Evaristo