As part of my course at university, I’ve had to read the book ‘The White Family’ by Maggie Gee.
This book is about a family (last name White) and their day-to-day lives, similar to that of a soap opera but with less plot. The father in the family, is taken ill and his family go to see him in the hospital. The book follows their individual lives and asks questions about race, gender and nature versus nurture.
All of the characters within the novel are inherently racist. The children learn this from their parents, mainly their father, Alfred. This has the largest affect on the youngest son, Dirk. There is also a clear divide between what is seen as okay for a woman to do and what is not, as well as the idea of appearances being important.
I have to say, I did not enjoy this book. It felt awkward and stumbling in places as the author tried to get into the character’s heads – this for me, was particularly evident when Gee writes as Thomas. If you like soap opera’s, then you’ll probably enjoy this as it’s like a morally questionable, soft-porn version of Emmerdale.
I found the novel to be oddly readable, but I’m unsure what the point of it was. It is an ugly book, about ugly, bigoted people, who are all too human. I can’t work out what the author’s motives were in writing this novel – was it to encourage readers to empathise with the racist characters? To understand that they’re only human too? If that is the case, the author was unsuccessful.
The characters were very cliched in terms of the kinds of people who might be racist – I.e. a good English soldier who returned from the war, hates all the immigrants. The roles they played were also very cliched. I felt that it was predictable at times.
The thing I dislike, perhaps the most, is the descriptions within reviews, on the cover, in the synopsis etc. that this is about an ordinary family. Ordinary families do not include abuse, racism, misogyny and murder. This is a dysfunctional family and by no means an ordinary one, to paint it as such I think is an affront.
Whilst there is much to be critiqued and many thought provoking things within the novel, I do not think this is because the novel is particularly special, or even good, it is more that the issues are interesting and important. I think there is also an element of train-wreck writing too, the entirety of the novel is so awful that even though you don’t care for the book, you can’t look away.
Overall, it’s an interesting choice for the syllabus as it’s easy to critique and easy to analyse within various critical ideologies – but as a book in itself, is definitely not my cup of tea.