Émile Zola was a truly great writer, and as you would expect, this novel, part of the Les Rougon-Macquart series of books is well worth reading and is still very much relevant. We only have to look at the financial crisis and scandals of this century alone to see that things have not got any better overall.
One of the best practitioners of Naturalism so here we are transported to Paris in the 1860s. Aristide Saccard is back on the scene after his rise and fall in the novel ‘The Kill’. Here he is once again plotting to become the number one person to come to, the king of money, and a power to be reckoned with. Here then, after meeting brother and sister Georges and Caroline Hamelin, who are neighbours, so a vision of the brother gives impetus to Saccard. There is definitely something very ambitious about the creation of the World Bank, which is to finance vast projects in the Middle East, and even set the Pope up in Jerusalem with funds, thus putting him in at the heart of Christian religion.
Of course though this is Saccard, someone who we all know likes to cut corners and do things his own way. Thus as the bank is created and shares are being issued so things are not as they should be behind the scenes, with a bit of fraud, skimming off the top and other nefarious deeds going on – although not all by Saccard. Thus we see a bubble being built, with unrealistic expectations and share prices reaching unbelievable heights. With our main character, so we see how his anti-Semitism doesn’t help things, and we all know that bubbles are liable to burst.
It takes Gundermann the Jewish financier to start putting things in to place to start a bubble burst, but as we see even he and other bankers have to try and step in to try to prevent an even deeper collapse and depression. With a whole host of characters so we see how people from all walks of life are affected, as well as other characters out to make money off of others through any means possible.
I really enjoyed here reading of the old days when the stock exchanges were not all computerised and people were running to and fro with messages and buying and selling. This book really captures that and brings it to life, which for a lot of younger people will be something completely new to read about. Taking in many themes as well as historical events this is well thought out and researched and is as is usual with this author certainly worth reading and reminds us all of the importance of firmly regulated markets and financial controls, as well as the power of greed.