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LESSER KNOWN WORKS

In this item, we want to highlight some of the wonderful novels English literature has to offer, but which are sadly underappreciated by or unknown to the general public.

Maggie Gee – The White Family

This novel can only be described as characteristically English. Its language, straightforward to the point of shocking at times, conveys an image of Britain that will be recognizable to most Anglophiles, both in a positive and negative way. Its subject is the White family, father Alfred, mother May and their grown-up children Darren, Shirley and Dirk. Alfred, who is, lets say, mistrustful of foreigners, has a stroke, uniting the scattered family at his hospital bed. The conflict between the children and their parents – Darren is the “golden boy” who does well for himself but is emotionally scarred by his upbringing, Shirley married a black man against her father’s wishes and Dirk is a skinhead, influenced by his father’s opinions on foreigners – is measured out extensively. The main plot line focuses on Alfred’s stroke and the effect this has on the (extended) family. However, every character has a chapter in which they are the narrator, each with subtle stylistic differences. All of them elaborate extensively on their past, present and future. This makes for a very diverse, varied novel which is extremely readable. Ms Zeven is very right in pointing out that ‘nothing is black-and-white’ in this novel; while characters may be unlikable on the one page, they redeem themselves on another page. They are not meant to be likeable but also not to be unlikeable, either. The reader must have a strong stomach for outspoken racism; while the novel obviously does not encourage it, it does contain numerous instances where characters elaborate at length on why the country is “going to the dogs”. A novel that hits home hard, The White Family is both harsh and beautiful, horrible and funny, neither black nor white.

Read this if:

- you like novels firmly planted in English soil;
- you like novels with multiple protagonists, all with their own voice;
- you like realistic fiction that encompasses all tones of life; whether positive or negative, happy or sad, funny or infuriating.

Don’t read this if:

- you can’t stand small-minded, racist characters;
- you find novels with multiple storylines and narrators distracting or annoying;
- you like short novels that get to the point quickly without too much fuss.