Excerpt from The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Family Tree

by Carole Cadwalladr

The Family Tree
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 416 pages
    Nov 2005, 416 pages

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Print Excerpt

"No," said Lucy, although of course she was lying. Aunty Suzanne had a blacklist of authors that included Rudyard Kipling, Enid Blyton and Ivy Compton-Burnett. Lucy, naturally, had made it a point of honor to read them all, acquiring a devotion of the kind that I suspected only samizdat literature could inspire. I had been weaned on The Jungle Book and The Secret Seven and had never once been tempted to say "ripping."

When we'd finished our milk, we played our new favorite game: studying the dictionary.

"Missionary n 1 : one who is sent on a mission, especially one sent to do religious or charitable work in a territory or foreign country 2 : one who attempts to persuade or convert others to a particular program, doctrine or set of principles; a propagandist."

We looked at each other blankly. What did that have to do with anything? We returned, again, to the well-thumbed entry for "sex."

"Sex n 1 : the property or quality by which organisms are classified as female or male on the basis of their reproductive organs and functions 2 : females or males considered as a group i : the condition or character of being female or male 4 : the sexual urge or instinct as it manifests itself in behavior 5 : sexual intercourse."

Lucy cross-referenced to "intercourse n" although we'd done this before and knew it wasn't going to get us anywhere. "1 : dealings or communications between persons or groups 2 : sexual intercourse."

What a ridiculous concept a dictionary was! It was a wonder we knew the meaning of anything. We spent hours cross-referencing between entries but, somehow, the truth always eluded us. It was six o'clock and time to go home.

"Bye-bye, Lucy! Bye-bye, Aunty Suzanne!"

"Just a minute, Rebecca." My aunt caught me by the door and licked shut an envelope. "Give your mother this, would you? And say we'd be delighted if she and your dad could make it."

"Yes, Aunty Suzanne. Bye, Aunty Suzanne."

"You can just call me Suzanne you know."

"Yes A— Suzanne."

I turned and ran off down the driveway.

"Bye, Aunty Suzanne. Bye, Lucy."

When I arrived home, Tiffany was hanging around the kitchen looking moody. Her sulk, now in its second full day, was showing no sign of diminishing. We'd been getting ready to go to school the day before when our mother called us excitedly. I had my toothbrush in my mouth and Tiffany was combing her hair, but we followed her into the lounge, where the television set was switched on. This was in the days before breakfast TV, so we knew immediately that something was up.

"Look, girls!" Our mother was waving excitedly at the television. "It's an Historic Occasion!"

A woman in a peacock blue jacket was talking to the camera. Her blouse was tied into a big bow at the neck, and she spoke very slowly, a bit like the way Mrs. Price at school talked to Steven German, who came from what our mother called a "broken home" and had once wet his pants in PE.

"It's Britain's first ever lady prime minister!"

We both gazed solemnly at the television.

Tiffany stamped her foot. Her Clarks sandals sank silently into the pile, her protest thwarted by the orange and brown swirls of our lounge carpet.

"But I wanted to be Britain's first lady prime minister!"

I looked at her, impressed. I hadn't even realized that Britain had lacked a lady prime minister.

"A lady prime minister!" said our mother. "Who ever would have thought it?" She sniffed. "Of course, it's the children I feel sorry for."

From The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, pages 1-17. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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