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The Good Room - David McWilliams
on 26 October 2012
A great read and one that matters. David McWilliams manages to combine a light-read novel with providing insights into the current economic crisis in Ireland and the rest of Europe. The two of them are cleverly intertwined, emphasizing the so obvious but often forgotten fact that economy is about real people. We meet Olivia Veckers, a young, popular history teacher. She loves her job but doesn't agree with the Leaving Cert system, encouraging her students to think for themselves rather than regurgitate textbook lines. We follow her all through her pregnancy of her second child, meeting many colourful relatives, friends and colleagues on the way. Like so many others, she's struggling with her mortgage of her house in Wicklow, bought during the boom. Her husband lost his job, her own working hours are reduced and their mortgage interest has gone up, all in all resulting in their outgoings being much larger than their income. Olivia and Sean talk to the bank to try and negotiate a deal but to no avail. A lawyer-friend offers to help them and together they decide to take on the banks in court.
`The Good Room' was a room many ordinary Irish people used to have, used only when very important people - the doctor, the priest - came to visit. In the good room, everyone pretended. The ordinary people pretended to be more posh than they were, the posh people played along. The Good Room is becoming rare, but its spirit lives on, according to DMW: Irish negotiators in Europe behave like his granny facing the local doctor in her Good Room, `adopting a subservient position desperately clinging on to a notion of respectability. Are we more concerned with the perception of respectability than with reality? Why, when evidently bust, didn't we call it like the Icelanders and tell the creditors where to go?'
DMW doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but he does make it clear that the behaviour of Irish negotiators in Europe affect the likes of Olivia and Sean, her family and friends - us. He points out that convential wisdom, mainstream thought, isn't always right - in fact, is quite often wrong. Will the judge rule in Olivia and Sean's favour, because the bank failed in their duty of care, by recklessly lending them more than 3.5 times their income during the boom? We won't know, not until a real-life Olivia and Sean - and there are plenty around - will take up the legal challenge in a real court.