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A bit of a grey areaThe White FamilyMaggie GeeSaqi Books 1195 pp420The shortlist for this years Orange Prize for fiction is dominated by home-grown talent but of its six contenders none is more deliberately British than The White Family In this Maggie Gees eighth novel she has left behind the experimental excesses of her youth to focus on the prejudice and violence she perceives as ingrained in contemporary societyIt is a narrative charged with change and transformation and opens against the vivid canvas of a city park in springtime this is Hillesden the fictitious heart of Londons multi-cultural borough of Brent and with the local chemist swallowed up by a betting shop and the bakery long since closed Albion Park stands as the last remaining monument to an orderly regimented pastAlfred White the park keeper has patrolled his patch of Eden for an epic half-century guarding against stray footballs and untoward goings-on in the gents a man as anachronistic as his job title he loves his bookish wife May with a mute devotion but has driven away two of their children and stunted a third with his violent temper and knee-jerk bigotry Nevertheless when an altercation with a young black family proves too much for Alfreds aged constitution his family comes to gather around his hospital bedsideDarren the eldest flies in from America where he is a successful journalist still choked with anger 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 ownAs a teenager Shirley sensed a sexual sting in her fathers 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
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