- 13 May 21
Back Stabbers & Money Grabbers
There’s no two ways about it, we lost the run of ourselves during the Celtic Tiger era and Kevin power’s second novel – the long-awaited follow-up to 2008’s Bad Day In Blackrock, a book you probably know even if you think you don’t because you likely saw Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did adaptation – holds a mirror up to the period.
Let’s take our narrator Ben for a start. He is the kind waster that you’d cross the road to hit with a stick. Given everything by obscenely wealthy parents, who he naturally hates as a result, he postpones any interaction with the real world by ‘working’ on a PhD about Joyce, which is just what academia needs. Of course, he has a novel in the works too, something called Decay: A Report, which is a title so nauseating, it could be gainfully employed as a stomach pump.
It all gone to pot – and worse - and we open in a rehab treatment facility because Ben’s guilty of being “terminally upper-middle class”. He has taken an awful lot of drugs as his privileged life collapsed following his father’s arrest over the small matter of a missing €600 million. His treatment under Dr Felix involves the writing of his story, perhaps in the hope of some Damascene flash of self awareness.
Following the feeling of his father's collar, the money tree goes into the shredder, which brings Ben’s college career to a swift end. He moves in with Clio, a would-be actress, whose life is one long party. This suits our man down to the ground and he takes to the hard stuff like a canard to a canal, becoming a valued customer to local dealers who delight in allowing him to put their kids through school. Ben does make some small concession to his new reality by taking a job in a cold call centre, and Power so perfectly paints the soul-destroying nature of that class of employment, you’d nearly be reaching for a bag of pick-me-up yourself.
Ben's way out of all this arrives thanks to an encounter with an old school pal at a restaurant. Do you remember how everyone and their cat had a great idea back in those dark days about how we could all make out like bandits? If I had a euro for every time some ‘expert’ advised me to buy an apartment, off the plans, in Czechoslovakistan, I'd have enough euros to buy an apartment. And so it goes that this Mullens fills Ben in on a can’t-fail-get-rich-quick scheme involving a transparently dodgy property deal/scam in Serbia. Ben, who knows in his heart that he's smarter than everyone else, decides to enter into this “world of getting away with it” and exit back out again as quickly as he can, using the resultant millions to fly off and live in the sun.
The “lads” involved on the Irish end of the deal could only be described - generously - as horrible bastards, the sort of business-babble spouting, toff offspring that would have you writing a letter to the papers calling out for the introduction of conscription to “knock a few corners off them.” On the other side of the table are Serbian hard men straight out of central casting. Does it all go according to Ben’s plans? Remember where we first found him, and take a wild stab in the dark.
Power’s novel has been compared elsewhere to Martin Amis’ Money, which is a fair cop, but it’s exalted and deserved company to be keeping. White City, despite it’s uniformly detestable cast of characters, is a marvellously entertaining read, although you might well find yourself cheering for the financial crash you know is just over the horizon. It’s hard to find a moral when no one has any.
If recent stockbroker shenanigans and the eye-watering cost of a square metre of floor in Dublin are anything to go by – was there ever anything as appropriately named as daft.ie? – then this kind of carry on is still carrying on. Power’s excellent novel should serve as a sort of warning from our recent history, not that we'll heed it.