Top critical review
An engaging story - but it is just a story.
on 16 March 2014
This is the first book I've heard by Ben Elton and I found myself surprisingly engaged over the weekend it took for me to get to the end of it. The plot centres around Jimmy Corby, a stock trader who, at the height of his success, is hit very hard by the credit crunch of 2008 and loses almost all of his wealth. Along the way, we also see how it affects six of his closest friends as they rise up through a huge amount of success in the 90s, only to find themselves in trouble as the topical affairs of the late 00's catch up to them as well (usually involving the collapse of the economy, but there is also a reference to the MP's Expenses scandal.)
There's a lot going for the book here. I usually enjoy hearing a real-world tale of a time that I can remember and we're not so very far away from, and this was no exception. All of the characters are flawed to the point that they're not entirely likeable to begin with; overblown caricatures of the snobbish upper-class. But however little sympathy you have for them at the start, losing all of your money is never a pleasant experience - no matter how much or little of it you have, and it is interesting to get, if not an insight, then an idea of what it was like for the people who had everything to lose it all. For Jimmy in particular, it comes across as a kind of mid-life rite of passage, as he and his wife Monica take an active role in being a mother and father to their three children for the first time without their entourage of nannies and help. They are forced to consider what is important, and what they can manage without. And there are some light, more comical moments as well, which is quite nice since the plot is quite bleak.
However, it is not without its weakness. There are holes in, not the plot itself, but certain scenes where the characters do and say things that reduce the books believability. A lot of the views that the book tries to get across appear to be overly cynical and the ending is perhaps a little bit contrived. And I did find myself wondering around half way through the book whether the description of 'The Banana,' a fictitious building in London which I can only assume is there to satirise The Shard, was put in so that Ben Elton could force in yet another nob gag (it doesn't happen too often in the book, but it is something which I've seen come up far too often in his recent work.)
The book is what it is - an idea. An idea of how the credit crunch affected those at the top. An idea of how they might have dealt with it. An idea of just how far people are willing to go in order to hang on to what they have left. And if this is an idea you're willing to explore, then I would recommend this book to you. But don't take it too seriously, or as stone cold fact. Because while parts of the story are certainly true for somebody, I doubt this is the way it all actually happened. Just enjoy it instead.