Books by Gillian White

Released: Sept. 1, 1999

Veteran British writer (The Beggar Bride, 1997, etc.) limns a melodramatic but gripping tale of a woman facing her past in a sinister cottage in the English countryside. Known better for her Weldon-like satire of relations between the sexes, White tells a tale here that's as much gothic horror story as a probing into assumptions about child abuse. Fortyish widow Georgie, a social worker, is accused by the media of not doing enough to save abused five-year-old Angela, apparently murdered by her stepfather. Overwhelmed by the feeling that perhaps she could have saved the girl, Georgie takes time off to pull herself together and fix up a derelict cottage—the cottage that belonged to her mysterious brother Stephen, who died there recently, presumably a suicide. The place is isolated, and the neighbors are unfriendly or peculiar: taciturn Mrs. Buckpit and her two oafish sons; Horace and Nancy Horsefield, who live out here because Nancy had a nervous breakdown; and surly Cramer and girlfriend Donna. As Georgie thinks back through her past, which includes a very creepy mother, and works on the cottage, nasty, disturbing things keep happening. A doll is set afire in the woodshed; Georgie senses she's being stalked; and, as winter sets in, her dog disappears, then is mysteriously returned; her chickens are decapitated; and she sees an eye peering at her from a hole in the woodshed roof. An accident on a snowy night produces more horrors—Georgie finds a human foot hanging in her shower and has to deal with a power outage while nursing a brutally injured young man. A nearly fatal encounter with her stalker, however, brings all to a nail-biting climax, and Georgie, helped by flashbacks, understands that women can be every bit as violent as men Not the author's best—the plot's as creaky as an old cottage staircase—but as readable as ever. Read full book review >
THE BEGGAR BRIDE by Gillian White
Released: April 1, 1997

An engaging piece of English upstairs-downstairs business as a young woman weaves a tangled web of deception to help her unemployed husband and ailing baby. British writer White (Dogboy, 1996, etc.) likes a bit of satire in her novels, and here she adroitly skewers tycoons, under- class layabouts, and lineage-obsessed gentry as she tells the story of Ange Harper, the orphan who dreamed big. Ange has been brought up in foster homes, but somehow none ever kept her long; she learned about the finer things of life from one of them, but at 16 she was on her own. In love with weak but handsome Billy Harper, who's run away from home and can't seem to hold a job, Ange marries him when she finds she's pregnant. On welfare, the two are placed in a squalid residential hotel, and Ange is determined to find something better for Billy and son Jacob. Soon, the beautiful and intelligent young mother comes up with the perfect scheme: She'll hide her marriage to Billy, will marry and then—at an appropriate time—divorce a wealthy businessman. She settles on the twice- married and currently single Sir Fabian Ormerod. Using her wits and imagination, she fakes her history, steals fashionable clothes, and passes herself off as an upper-class career woman, eventually becoming the new Lady Ormerod. But the best-laid plans inevitably go wrong. Fabian's daughter by his first marriage, fearing the loss of her inheritance when Ange bears a son, plots with a charismatic satanist to get rid of her; Ange is sent disturbing, anonymous letters that vividly detail her childhood and current life; and Jacob is kidnapped. All manner of truths are eventually revealed, but Sir Fabian, it turns out, can't afford scandal, and asks Ange to continue to appear in public as his wife and the mother of his heir. A contemporary cautionary tale with bite and flair. Read full book review >
DOGBOY by Gillian White
Released: Jan. 1, 1996

British writer White (Grandfather's Footsteps, p. 268, etc.) mixes domestic satire of a sitcom sort with a dark and gripping William Goldinglike tale of a deeply troubled boy—a teenager who teams up with a killer dog to avenge a bitter betrayal. White's England is a place of contrasts—between peaceful old villages and decaying tenements; concerned citizens and venal businessmen; pampered children and ones so mistreated that they're walking time-bombs—contrasts that she emphasizes with heavy-handed asides that may be true but increasingly irritate. The author's latest begins as two unmarried welfare mothers, sisters Kirsty and Sheralee Maggs, take their children to Fingles Pond amusement park- -a tacky place owned by corner-cutting Zak Oliphant and guarded by the dour Hump, as well as a hidden killer-dog illegally imported from the US. It's here that Jason, Sheralee's four-year-old son, has his hand bitten off by the dog—an attack that leads to legal trouble for Oliphant and some unanticipated outcomes for the Maggs family. While their luck changes in unlikely but fortuitous ways that include travel with trust-fund hippies, a parallel story concerns nice Jem and Gerry Hardy-Brown and their two children, all threatened by mixed-up adolescent Fergus. Former social worker Jem had once been in charge of Fergus, who fell in love with her (though he was only eight) and who continued to love her as he was moved from home to home because of increasingly disruptive behavior. But Jem hurt him badly, and now, out of prison, Fergus is determined to hurt her back. He stalks her, vandalizes her home, then steals the amusement park dogfor the killing he plans. But neither Jem nor Fergus is quite what they seem, and the end, though physically graphic, is psychologically even more horrible. An unlikely mix of humor and horror that, with the exception of the public-service-announcement messages, does manage to work- -but just. Read full book review >
Released: April 15, 1995

British writer-journalist White (Mothertime, 1994, etc.), who soldiers in the Fay Weldon school of domestic satire, returns—this time to use a surrogate-motherhood scam as a lens through which to explore the complex nature of family ties. Seventeen-year-old Brenda takes shorthand at 150 words a minute, but her looks broadcast her lower-class origins: She has tea stains on her work clothes and ``chips-and-vinegar skin under bright orange No 7 makeup.'' Certainly she doesn't hold a candle to Jessica, her impeccably coiffed boss, who rushes home from a hard day at the office to whip up a dinner of young pigeons in red wine. But chance makes Jessica deign to focus on her untidy secretary: Brenda is accidentally pregnant and Jessica wants a baby. Worn out from a long bout of infertility treatments with her younger boyfriend, Rudi, Jessica fears that he'll leave her because he so badly wants a child. So she concocts a scheme to have Rudi make love, under her supervision, to barely pregnant Brenda, and then, believing that the ensuing child is his, adopt it with Jessica. (Brenda will get a tidy sum for her efforts.) And all goes sort of according to plan—except that a wild turn of events installs Brenda's boisterous, Elvis-singing family in the house next door to Jessica, leading to all sorts of noisy interfamilial merging. When they discover that Brenda is expecting with Rudi, the mom, dad, and lunkish brothers invite themselves over for celebratory visits and travel en masse to the hospital for the delivery. Jessica does get her man, but in the process she gains an unrepentantly tacky new family, and the carefully constructed graciousness of her life will never be the same. White weaves earnest but perceptive asides about control, class, and solidarity among women into her heavy-handed satire: The result is a tasty snack that goes down as easily as fast food but actually packs some nutritive wallop. Read full book review >
MOTHERTIME by Gillian White
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

From British journalist White, a wacky, well-written comic novel in which a narcissistic mother is imprisoned in her posh London home by her five young children. Alcoholic ex-actress and divorcÇe Caroline Townsend is a mother from hell. Christmas Eve finds her on a drunken rampage, ripping off the tinsel that her children have lovingly draped about the tree after Caroline's married lover, Bart, has ditched her. When she collapses into unconsciousness, the children, led by the eldest, 12-year-old Vanessa, lock her up in the basement sauna, explaining that they will free her when she becomes a proper mother. They keep her there for three months, inventing artful ruses to explain her absence to the au pair and the housekeeper as well as to Bart, who might want Caroline back, and their father, successful television talking head Robin Townsend, and his new young wife Suzie. All the adults are too self-absorbed—Robin and Suzie are trying desperately to get pregnant—to question the children's alibis except Bart's schizophrenic brother Lot, who decides, after his beloved brother's marriage breaks up, to hunt down the evil home-breaker Caroline. Lot, who proves as winsomely inventive as the children, breaks into the basement of the Townsend home, frees Caroline and then, in an unlikely twist, falls in love with her. Equally improbable is the finale in which new mother Suzie and newborn mother Caroline repair, sans Robin, to the English countryside with Lot and Caroline's five children to embrace a cheerily rustic bliss straight out of Beatrix Potter. Blessed with the gift of fashioning clever metaphors while delivering pungent pronouncements on men, marriage, and motherhood, White is best when she resists trying to make nice to her characters and sticks to skewering them. Read full book review >
RICH DECEIVER by Gillian White
Released: Dec. 15, 1993

Like satirist Fay Weldon, first-novelist White deals with what Weldon's booster quote here refers to as ``domestic infamy'': here, in a tale of an ego-squashed little wife in search of her husband's love, who—after some bizarre plotting and precipitous pratfalls- -emerges fulfilled, fat, and free-standing. Ellie Freeman and husband Malcolm, both in their 40s, live in the unlovely Liverpool neighborhood of Nelson Street. In a dressing gown ``the color of a cornflake,'' Ellie listens to Malcolm, an overweight warehouseman, growling downstairs—but in her pocket she hides a letter announcing that she's won ú1,525,000 in a sweepstake. After several frazzled starts, Ellie decides to ``buy'' Malcolm a career by investing in a struggling blinds-firm that would be thereby obliged to hire her husband. (All this secretly, with the curiously interested help of a bank executive.) The magic wand is waved, and Malcolm is transformed from ``moaning, miserable and hopeless'' to confident, glib, and charming. But two cars and a bungalow later, Ellie discovers that she's become even more insecure and lonely, and, worse, she's created in Malcolm a monster, arisen from Nelson Street clay. He leaves her for the stunning gallery-manager Gabriella, whose clothes ``flutter several feet behind her.'' Ellie's revenge on the way to recapturing Malcolm—a virtuoso performance involving the roosting of Nelson Street's most colorful citizens amongst the posh, along with general mayhem—is blunted by wholesale betrayal. But Ellie, hitherto rattled, buffeted, living for and in another, will finally find herself—``confused, funny, pathetic, emotional but basically likeable.'' An entertaining debut from a sure English talent, with not only a satiric thrust but a wealth of gritty, compassionate recognitions—as well as the knowledge that in poor neighborhoods, the dawn does not arise but merely ``flops'' and ``slinks.'' Read full book review >