, Research Paper
A spot of a Grey areaThe White FamilyMaggie GeeSaqi Books? 11.95, pp420The short list for this twelvemonth & # 8217 ; s Orange Prize for fiction is dominated by home-grown endowment, but of its six rivals none is more intentionally British than The White Family. In this, Maggie Gee & # 8217 ; s 8th novel, she has left behind the experimental surpluss of her young person to concentrate on the bias and force she perceives every bit ingrained in modern-day society.It is a narrative charged with alteration and transmutation, and opens against the graphic canvas of a metropolis park in springtime ; this is Hillesden, the fabricated bosom of London & # 8217 ; s multi-cultural borough of Brent, and with the local chemist swallowed up by a betting store and the bakeshop long since closed, Albion Park stands as the last leftover memorial to an orderly, regimented past.Alfred White, the park keeper, has patrolled his spot of Eden for an heroic half-century, guarding against stray footballs and indecent goings-on in the gents & # 8217 ; ; a adult male every bit anachronic as his occupation rubric, he loves his studious married woman, May, with a deaf-and-dumb person devotedness, but has driven away two of their kids and stunted a 3rd with his violent pique and knee-jerk dogmatism. Nevertheless, when an affray with a immature black household proves excessively much for Alfred & # 8217 ; s aged fundamental law, his household comes to garner around his infirmary bedside.Darren, the eldest, flies in from America, where he is a successful journalist, still choked with an
ger at his father and already on his third wife. Shirley has been left a wealthy widow by her Ghanaian husband – a marriage that caused almost as much familial strife as her current relationship with Leroy, a black social worker – but swaddled in cashmere and silks, she bears a sadness all her own.As a teenager, Shirley sensed a sexual sting in her father’s punches, and this has taken root in Dirk, the skin-headed baby of the family. Brutalised and repressed, he desperately seeks acceptance as well as scapegoats in the company of loutish BNP-types. By the end of the novel, Dirk’s inarticulate hatred of ‘coloureds’ will have coupled with his latent homosexuality to bloody effect, spurring Alfred to perform one final, redemptive act of duty.The White Family is a worthwhile novel, but Gee’s skilful structure and tender, precise prose are undermined by riffs on pop psychology: as Alfred realises that the ‘enemy’ is no more than a bunch of ‘giant teenagers’, his eyes are opened to their exoticism and the ‘gleaming black’ of their skin.Gee is unflinching in her exploration of the causes and consequences of racism, but too often she delves beneath the skin of her archetypes to come up with near stereotypes, and for all that it aims at up-to-the-minute, the book remains curiously, naively dated. As White Teeth, that other multi-cultural Brent novel showed, today’s racial landscape is coloured less in blacks and whites than myriad shades of grey.