The Gulf Between Us, By Geraldine Bedell

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The Independent Culture

Some books gain a reputation even before they have been read, and so it is with The Gulf Between Us, which sparked controversy when Margaret Atwood pulled out of the Dubai literary festival after the novel was apparently banned for including among its characters a gay sheikh.

There is indeed a gay sheikh, but there is also Annie Lester, a single mother of three boys, who, after her husband's untimely death, is bemused by the imminent wedding of her 23-year-old son. She wonders if the precariousness of growing up in a Gulf state is inciting in him an identity crisis. Meanwhile, Annie is struggling with her own identity, as an old flame – once an apprentice plumber in Thornton Heath but now a film star – makes a reappearance in her life. And, as she discovers that one of her sons is gay, she must confront prejudice in its many guises, overt and insidious.

Set in the tense summer of 2002, it isn't this novel's political context which is most powerful, but its depiction of the pains and pleasures of parenting.

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