Saturday, December 17, 2011

Other People's Money by Justin Cartwright (2011)

My latest read from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program is Other People's Money by Justin Cartwright (2011), a look at the recent financial crisis through the eyes of one of Britain's oldest banking families.

The patriarch of the family, Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal, has had a stroke and no one can understand him but his devoted old maid secretary, Estelle. The bank has been put in the hands of the younger son, Julian, as his older brother took off to find himself in the world of international adventure after the death of their mother. Julian and his right-hand-man, Nigel, both got caught up in hedge fund mania, and the Trubal bank is in just as much trouble as all the "new money" banks in London. They can't let anyone know about it because they hope to sell the bank to an American conglomerate and get out while the getting is good. In the meantime, Fleur, Harry's much younger trophy wife, is on unsteady footing with the family; Artair MacCleod (playwright, director, and Fleur's ex-husband) has stopped receiving his long-term "grant" from the Trubal estate (which was basically a pay off for letting Fleur go); and Melissa Tregarthen, a young Cornish journalist, is sent off to interview MacCleod about his new play but ends up uncovering a major banking scandal.

This is a very readable (and very British) book, which is also often very funny: "[MacCleod's] grand project is to produce a five-hour play based on the life and novels of Flann O'Brien. But today he has taken a break to start hand-writing his manuscript, because he has heard that a university in Texas will pay good money for original manuscripts; his is, in fact, mostly a cut-and-paste job from the work of O'Brien, with stage directions added in marker pen." -- archives humor!. Cartwright is at his best when he shows us how the interior view of a person contrasts with how they are seen by others, but the clunky dialogue can put a wrench in the action and the book occasionally gets dragged down in predictability and cliche. There are also a couple of weirdly sexualized descriptions of Julian's four-year-old daughter that made me uncomfortable, and didn't seem to serve any real purpose.

The book makes for a quick and satisfying read despite these reservations, and while its explorations of class and morality might not be as in-depth as I would have liked, there was enough here to keep me interested until the nicely drawn conclusion.

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