The head of a London office on Race Equality ends his affair with a woman he supervises, launching a schematic set of repercussions in this new novel by Phillips (Foreigners, 2007, etc.).
Keith Gordon is intelligent, articulate, even reflective, but very quickly the reader learns not to trust his judgment of his own actions and character. A black man of West Indian descent, separated for three years from the white wife he romanced at university, the 47-year-old has no clue as to the issues of power involved in his romance with a 26-year-old subordinate, or about how she might react to their breakup. Thus he’s far more surprised than the reader when the relationship he considered little more than a physical release throws his own life into shambles. Testing the reader’s credulity, Keith soon after attempts to seduce another young woman, a Polish immigrant whose station in society is far lower than his. Though race appears to be a primary consideration early on—from Keith’s career and his wife to the white stepmother who raised him and the mistress who could pass for white—this is ultimately a novel of generations. Keith feels distant from both his son, derided by classmates as a “halfie,” and his immigrant father. The plot is overdetermined, but it’s hard to deny or resist the stylistic subtlety of a narrative that encompasses (sometimes on the same page) the past, the near past and the distant past from the perspective of Keith’s muddled psyche. The novel builds to an extended soliloquy that offers plenty of revelation for protagonist and reader alike, as Keith and his father attempt to forge a bond after years of estrangement. Phillips’ protagonist remains a mystery, though the reader will come to know him better than he knows himself.
A stylistic tour de force, suffering from a little too much thematic connecting of the dots.