By Jackie McGlone

MAGGIE GEE IS slender, silvery-haired and super stylish. “I am a small woman,” acknowledges the hugely talented writer, adding that she has always longed to be tall, to be a big, busty, buxom woman as strong as the heroine of her astonishing new book, a Gothic black comedy set in an angry, anarchic, Brexit Britain, which is like no other novel I have ever read.

Monica Ludd -- it rhymes with Blood, the novel’s title -- is six-foot-one, twenty-stone with billowing flesh and an enormous appetite for food, sex and literature. Deputy head of a Thanet school, where she teaches Shakespeare and condom use to her teenage pupils, she’s a good teacher -- a respectable citizen who loves her job and Latin -- one who keeps violence to the minimum in her classroom.

“The kids are splattered with violence every days, internet videos of vile beheadings. Defend British Values picketing mosques, blood in London, Paris, Brussels -- Kabul, Nice, Nairobi, Glasgow -- bodies exploded like burst packages, balaclavaed heads popping up like hydras... Naturally the kids do violence to each other, compass-points in arms, knives in back pockets...” Monica tells us. Blood is mostly narrated by her, although there are also interjections in Spanglish from a woman called Adoncia, whose role in the gory story can not be revealed.

Both Hilary Mantel and renowned biographer and academic, Lyndall Gordon, have given Blood pre-publication raves. Mantel: “Maggie Gee’s novel of broken Britain is violent, sardonic, funny and fierce. It is written with style and dash, without piety, without fear.” Gordon: “What a terrific indictment of the world ruled by what Virginia Woolf called the strain of Hitlerism in the hearts of men... [Monica] is one of the great characters of fiction.”

Big Mon -- imagine the love child of Fay Weldon’s She-Devil and Falstaff -- is one of five surviving children terrorised by their cruel, corrupt, coercive dentist “Dad,” who is assumed dead when the novel opens with Monica on the run clutching a bloodied axe. “The Ludds. Artistes of awfulness. I’m one of them. I share the bad blood. And yet I have my softer side -- as you’ll see if you stay with me,” is our introduction to a character that the novelist describes as “a walking Id, laughing and riotous.” A lady of misrule? “She is, she is!”

“But do you think people will find this book shocking? Were you shocked by it?” asks Gee (70), who is dressed appropriately in blood-red-scarlet-and-black when we meet in London, although she and her husband, writer and broadcaster Nicholas Rankin, now live in the seaside town of Ramsgate to which we shall return.

I tell her that I was not shocked, that I laughed a lot while reading the book but that I hope readers will be jolted into thinking hard and carefully about today’s Britain -- just as she has spent the last five years living in a literary world fuelled by rage and terrorism. Over coffee in a Bloomsbury hotel bar, Gee confesses that while writing the book -- her twelfth novel -- she had terrible nightmares. “They were so bad I had to stop writing several times. I laid the book aside for a while, then of course I went back to it. I was determined to finish it, despite the sleepless nights.”

As Gee points out, the novel is a metaphor for current world politics so the maniacal character of “Dad” is “a destroyer of worlds, a surrogate for ISIS and other proponents of terror.” Yet, she explains, the book began because she wanted to write a comedy. “I’ve always written comedies, although for some reason that’s not what people associate me with.

“It seemed to me, however, that when you look at this country at present nobody is listening to anybody else’s point of view. People are angry and the level of abuse is dreadful. Parliament is certainly a broken system. It’s just adversarial! It’s childish, really childish! And globally it really is looking bad -- Putin, Trump, Erdogan, Kim Jong-un... And these are all outsize male figures as it happens. They are tyrants essentially yet they are almost cartoonish.”

She pauses before urging: “Look at the level of violence shown by ISIS and others. But how do we deal with absolute, unreasoning violence, how can we live in such a violent world? We all want a world that is peaceful and many of us do live that way with our friends and at work and at home. But what do you do if your country is invaded? We know, for instance, that if there had not been an invasion of Iraq, there would have been no ISIS. The logic of world affairs is off -- there is so much frighteningly random violence.”

Monica and her siblings have been the recipients of terrifyingly random violence at home. “We know that there are children who live still in homes with totally tyrannical parents -- it could be either gender but most often it’s the bullying father because that is the way our family system has been structured for a very long time. So through Monica I wanted to play this out. What do you do if a brutal tyrant won’t stop? What happens next? If the law is not constraining this man, who is exploiting the National Health Service and terrorising his family, abusing at least one of his children and bullying his sweet son into going into the army against his wishes. This seems to me the big question about terror that we have not managed to answer as liberal democracies.”

Most of the novel, Gee reveals, was written in 2017 during the Manchester bombing, the London bombings and the attacks on Westminster Bridge and the Finsbury Park mosque. Additionally, there is what Monica calls: “Brexit, Break it, Brek-ek-ek-exit!”

The B-word is inevitable of course. Gee and her husband -- they have one daughter, the novelist Rosa Rankin-Gee, who lives and works in Paris -- moved to Ramsgate six years ago. “It’s on the Brexit front line,” says Gee. Thus is where desperate refugees land sometimes in the quieter Thanet bays, of which there are some gloriously lyrical descriptions in Blood, and where Gee often swims. Migrants have always come ashore there -- “the place where English history began.” Recent research reveals that Julius Caesar probably landed at Pegwell Bay, the destination of one of her favourite walks.

Some of her friends in Ramsgate voted for Brexit, the opposite way to Gee. At sunset on a clear day on the horizon, you can see the cliffs of France lying low and pink in the distance. “When Europe is only 20-odd miles away, it is part of your physical consciousness -- your own history, both individual and local.” And that, she believes, may explain why it inspires fear or desire.

Born in Poole, Dorset, Gee, is a graduate of Somerville College, Oxford, and a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University. She has written 15 books, including a memoir, My Animal Life and a short story collection. One of Granta’s original “Best of Young British Novelists,” she has been nominated for many global prizes. In 2004 she became the first female chair of the Royal Literary Society and, in 2012 -- the year in which she was awarded an OBE for services to literature -- an international conference at St Andrews University was devoted to her work. She’s a state-of-the-nation novelist. Every book is different from the previous one, ranging from her anti-war novel, The Burning Book, to Grace, inspired by the murder of 84-year-old anti-nuclear campaigner, Hilda Murrell.

“I always want my fiction to engage with real life,” she says, adding that that is why she’s written about things that are hard to write about, from racism among angry white men to the plight of Ugandan cleaners and now appalling violence and terrorism. Her last novel, however, was the witty Virginia Woolf in Manhattan (2014), a jeu d’esprit about to be published in a newly updated and extended version in America. In May, she’s publishing a collection of sonnets, Kiss and Part.

She’s always written poetry but then she has always written because she knew she could. “I’ve told you before it’s a mad thing to do to be a writer, but there are things I desperately want to write about. For instance, I’ve always wanted to write about patricide because it is not written about. So all that was in my head -- the violent state of the world and a revenge tragedy but told in Monica’s voice, a big, funny woman, who has dreadful thoughts. But then don’t we all?

“Oh, to barrel into rooms like Monica!”

Blood, by Maggie Gee (Fentum Press, £9.99).