The White Family by Maggie Gee; The Red Children by Maggie Gee - review by Kate Webb

Kate Webb

Common Ground

The White Family


Telegram 448pp £9.99

The Red Children


Telegram 304pp £14.99

There’s a portrait of a writer, Thomas, in The White Family (2002) – Maggie Gee’s novel about racism, written in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder – which is surely meant as a rebuke to the complacency of British fiction at the time. Thomas has published a minor novel and is now working on a ‘phony’ book about postmodernism and the ‘death of meaning’. The irony of this is that he is embroiled in a story whose meanings pass unnoticed by him. ‘A rare white voice exploring race as a British novelist,’ Bernadine Evaristo writes of Gee in her introduction to Telegram’s new edition of The White Family.

Caught up in his books, Thomas doesn’t get out much, but when an attractive young teacher moves into a neighbouring flat, he finds himself agreeing to talk to a class of her students about his work. Wondering what it is that writers do exactly, he tries out a few clichéd phrases – ‘Writers don’t know where their stories come from. They come like magic, in the middle of the night’; ‘writing is a way of bringing people together’ – before coming up with an explanation that he thinks will seize the kids’ imaginations: ‘I’ll tell them, writers are time-travellers. Sending messages from six thousand years ago.’

Telegram have also just published Maggie Gee’s latest novel, The Red Children, and though set a few decades in the future, its messages – or rather, messengers – arrive from even further back in time than Thomas had imagined. They come in the form of a small band

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