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4.3 out of 5 stars34
4.3 out of 5 stars
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I do find Paul Torday's books very readable. It helps that he has characters wandering out of one book into another and plots or themes from one book prefigured in another. But also, the world he describes seems a pleasant, sunlit place, populated by decent types with names like Hector ("Eck") Chetwode-Talbot who bump up against each other in London clubs and never have to do a 9-to-5 job. Instead they live on inheritances or farm a bit. There might be some trauma in the background - in Eck's case, a nasty experience in Afghanistan - but it's kept at arm's length. As Eck says in "The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers", none of them are ever really on the edge.

Or so you might think. There comes a time, though, when the music stops, and most of the chairs have disappeared. In this book, Torday describes the recent financial crash. Eck is a roper-in for a London hedge fund, encouraging his wealthy friends to put their money in his company's "Styx II" fund. The Charlie of the title is a lower level conman, selling dodgy dog food and beetroot wine from the back of a rented van, stretching his credit and vanishing when things get too hot. What, the book asks, is the real difference between them? It's perhaps a fairly obvious point, and certainly not a subtle analysis of the crash, but Torday's characters are compelling (except the real villains, who are perhaps a bit cardboard). I did see how it would all end when I was three quarters of the way through, but it's fun to read and still quite compulsive - I had to sit up last night to finish it.

Properly I'd like to give 3.5 stars but as I can't, 4 rather than 3 for sheer verve and readability.
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on 14 July 2010
I loved this book so much that I immediately went out and bought another book by Paul Torday. With someone who writes as well as this, I don't think you can really go wrong.
I couldn't put the book down. The plot was ingenious, the themes topical, the characterization very credible and as an added bonus, it had me laughing out loud. That's not to say that it was a comedy. There are definitely some scary parts and one or two very scary characters. And the ending is terribly sad.
However, everything flowed, all details were relevant, and Mr Torday is a very competent and compelling storyteller.
I only wish that really good books like this would get more attention, but sadly, it's often the so-called bestsellers that end up being a disappointment. You won't get that here.
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VINE VOICEon 8 December 2012
I had enjoyed two of Paul Tordays earlier books and thought I would give this a go.
The tale is told by Hector, who is a "greeter" for a hedge fund company, attracting new clients and comforting existing investors. He observes his experiences in a comfortable way which is very easy to read and gets around the problem of relating events where he is not present by referring to stories being told to him later in time, quite a clever way of getting around a problem with a first person narrative.
I was hooked into the plot from the first page of the prologue. The story has financial blind optimism at its heart which creates a wonderful feeling of inevitable gloom in you as you are reading, as you know better than Hector about the future prospects for the investments.
There are many novels which have used the financial boom and bust as a backdrop. This one approaches the economic crisis in a very matter of fact and easy of understand way which links in well with the plot of the story.
It's a great story with some lovely characters whose only criticism can be that they are slightly overplayed. That aside it is a good fun book to read.
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on 14 January 2011
I have read all Paul Torday's books up to date and this one did not disappoint. As the plot has been outlined in other reviews, I will keep this brief and just say ''The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers'' is another great read. His earlier novels, like this one, are a mixture of humour and (often) sadness - his characters usually somewhat flawed but likeable. There is always an unusual twist to look forward to. I so enjoyed this latest novel and urge others to read it. It's impossible not to like ''Eck'' and Charlie Summers.
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on 14 May 2012
Pros - It's well written, and the financial backdrop and jargon seem well observed. It's also interesting (if you've read any of the author's other novels)to see how the lives of characters from other tales intersect with the characters in this story.

Cons - The parallels between Charlie the low level conman and Eck the hedge fund financial salesman are too laboriously worked, to the point where it is in danger of becoming a finger wagging morality fable. Also given that we all know the outcome of the financial shenanigans described, the reader can accurately predict the fates of Eck, James and Bilbo right from the outset. We are constantly reminded of the physical resemblance between Charlie and Eck, so the "mistaken identity" twist is also quite predictable once you hit the last few chapters.

It's written in the author's usual pleasant (if bittersweet) style, it's not a demanding or exciting read, but the main characters are well drawn, and it's a reasonably interesting read.
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VINE VOICEon 6 May 2010
This is a very easy read, describing the interaction between the itinerant underperforming eponymous businessman Charlie Summers, who mets two friends, Eck and Henry, whilst holidaying in the South of France, and attaches himself to them. The narrator, Eck Chetwode-Talbot, is a veteran of Afghanistan now employed by a ruthless ex-school colleague who heads a hedge fund just prior to the global financial crisis and melt-down of the global banking system. The book has veins of light humourous observations running through it, as Eck tries to sort out what is important in his life whilst the events in Afghanistan come back to haunt him, and Charlie flounders from one failed business venture to the next. The separate threads of the characters comes together at the end, although I was wondering at times where it was all going. Really just a light entertaining story. Quite good but not outstanding.
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“Arrangements were then made to show Charlie to his room. This turned out to be a servant’s room, a long way from the rest of the bedrooms, and showed no sign of recent use. There was a small bed about five feet long, a washbasin and not much else in the way of decoration. A bathroom with a lino floor across the corridor was thrown in as additional hospitality. It was lit by one of the new low-energy bulbs, which seemed barely to register any form of electric current, emitting a glow similar to what might have been produced by half a dozen fireflies”

The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers is the fourth novel by British author, Paul Torday. After ten years in the army followed by a few in private security, Hector Chetwode-Talbot (Eck to his friends) is at a loose end. Then he gets a call from Bilbo Mountwilliam, a few years ahead of him at school and now fabulously rich, thanks to the hedge fund he runs. Bilbo offers Eck a well-paying position: all he has to do is entertain his well-off friends and get them interested in investing in Mountwilliam Partners.

His job sees him in the south of France, playing golf with his friend, Henry (Lord) Newark when they first encounter Charlie Summers, looking rather shop-worn, in hiding from HM’s Customs and Revenue regarding certain VAT irregularities. But Charlie is nothing if not resilient, and is soon back in the country with (yet another) get-rich-quick scheme, this one involving Japanese dog food. His audacious plans see him establishing himself in Gloucestershire and trading on a case of mistaken identity.

Eck has always had a niggling feeling about the ethics of his job, and finds himself even more wary when Bilbo has him meeting with a mysterious Afghan. The feeling that he is being followed is dismissed: he is distracted by his ever growing feelings for his second cousin, Harriet. And then the Global Financial Crisis begins to bite: “…the invisible, locationless money ebbed and flowed around the world, a great tide of wealth. Each high tide was higher than the last; each low tide less marked. No one quite knew where it all was, or which debts were going to be repaid, and which not. Yet, here and there, one or two people were beginning to ask: where’s the money?”

In this novel, Torday explores the environment that produced the GFC, as well as touching on money laundering, greed (of course!) and guilt. Also featured are con-men (of varying degrees of magnitude), emetic dog food, beetroot-coloured wine, a few somewhat careless jihadists, an unexpected inheritance, green hair dye, a friendly-fire incident and a kidnapping.

Torday’s characters are wholly believable: each has their strengths and weaknesses, and the decisions they make in life are completely understandable. Several of the characters have appeared in earlier novels, notably Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, Eck, Charlie and Elizabeth Gascoigne. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and only the most cynical reader will not choke up toward the end. Torday just keeps getting better, and readers who enjoy this book will look forward to The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall. Just brilliant!
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'Money. It was all about money'. The first sentence of the author's note to reading groups says it all. This is a modern morality tale about the harm created by greed, that leads to those affected to suspend judgement and sign up to any scheme that promises fabulous returns with no risk attached. This book is a telling indictment of the 'loadsamoney' culture that took over in the first years of the new millennium, and the inevitable crash in its final years. There are two heroes- if that is the right term - 'Eck', a fundamentally decent person who has been scarred by the new kind of warfare pursued by the modern British Army, and is seduced by the lure of the hedge fund culture in the form of the Mountwilliam Partners, headed by the obnoxious Bilbo; and the eponymous Charlie Summers, a kind of down at heel petty conman who flourishes on the fringes of society, and comes up with one ridiculous scheme to make money after the other, all of which end in failure. There is obviously a parallel to be drawn between them, as many reviewers have pointed out, though the author has painted a particularly sympathetic picture of both. They are both, in the sense, the victims of modern society. Paul Torday (who will be greatly missed) has clearly drawn on his own experiences to create a wholly credible world of finance and its operation. Yes, it is a deeply moral tale, and the author does not hesitate to make this point with the symbolism of the notorious Styx fund - a sure route to loss and oblivion - and the shadowy figure from the Middle East that Bilbo asks Eck to entertain, who is clearly up to no good, the only question being who or what he represents.

The end of the novel is both appropriate and fitting : I can say no more without providing spoilers. Maybe not in the same category as his debut novel, but still a work by a talented author reflecting on a major theme in modern life.
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on 6 August 2010
I just love this author. The story has been explained well by other reviewers so I won't describe it myself. If you like your books with a simple plot, with humour and a touch of the 'strange' then Paul Torday is for you! My favourite of his so far is The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce. Apparently he was 60 when his first book (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) was published, I really hope he has lots more books left in him!
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on 25 August 2012
Probably the best novel (known to me) that Paul Torday has written post "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". Here he teases over the question of the difference of an obvious old-style chancer (in Charlie Summers) and a superficially successful employee of a hedge fund business. He also follows the fortunes of characters who have appeared in an earlier novel. His style is direct and never fails to hold the reader's attention.
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