‘OPM!' It's the trader's shout of glee that greets a deal gone bad. It's other people's money when they screw up, but they are quick to shout "mine!" when the deal looks good.
It’s all about the money.
The story is told from shifting viewpoints. Julian is the scion of one of England’s wealthiest and oldest private banking families; his father is the stroked out dying Harry, “…the tenth generation of Tubals, chairman of this and that, philanthropist, lover of the ballet, driven around all his life in a huge Bentley – ends up a sea creature, brain dead, his hands flexing and unflexing, mouth opening and closing as though he is sieving the water for minute particles of plankton.” Only Harry’s long suffering secretary Estelle can understand him now, and she is the one that can translate his garbled speech. ““He has dried up. The old phrases have escaped in staccato fashion from inside his head and the supply is diminishing. She will tidy them up before sending them.”
She is also the only one who grieves for Harry. No one in his family cares for him, they think only of the impact of his death on the family business and finances and therefore how that will affect their own finances, status etc. His son Julian visits him in the hospital, and on leaving discusses his impending death with his right hand man Nigel. In four sentences he has done talking about him and then spends even more time talking about upcoming tennis game plans, and business-as-usual details. As if the death of his father is but one small minor detail in the larger canvas of dinner dates, tennis games, overseas travel, business deals, and oh by the way, funeral planning.
Harry and his family are portrayed as almost hapless victims of their own selfishness, hypocrisy, and lack of insight. Incapable of a view outside themselves. The old man’s much-younger trophy wife, ex-actress Fleur, struggles to feel some emotion about his terminal state. “She reaches for his hand; her heart, her little gingham actress sentimental dishonest heart, is full.” She’s not completely lacking in insight though. “Maybe she’s become Emma Bovary. She needs dramatic models to form a view of herself.” “She thinks her new skin revitalising cream at £130 a jar is giving her face a healthy glow. Its effect is a little like going for a walk in a bracing wind. She’s losing all sense of irony.”
Julian’s reckless and greedy dealings have mortally wounded his family’s bank, but so far the damage is hidden. He needs to get rid of the bank before his shonky business practices are discovered. He thinks that a successful sale will let him exit from his duplicitous hypocritical lifestyle. As if his slimy nature has been imposed upon him by the nature of his business. He doesn’t know he will never escape himself. Julian thinks the staff will be angry when they learn the bank will be sold. He is aware. But that’s it. He does not think beyond awareness. He does not think of the translation of the impact. Julian doesn’t seem to regard the staff as human. The doorman (doorperson?) Jade is “as happy as a Labrador”
Julian is slowly assuming his father’s characteristics. “And he also seems to be assuming his father’s immense charm now as if the supply has been bequested to him and he’s come into the legacy early.” He doesn’t have the moral fibre to play a different role. “Julian thinks that in order to succeed in business you need, like his father and like Cy, to have limited imagination. If you were aware of life’s possibilities would you really choose a path of endless problems, disappointments and treachery? Would you choose to wear white Gucci loafers without irony?”
The book is peppered with delicious lines like that.
There are other interesting characters, peripheral cling-ons of the family and the journalists who stumble upon the potentially staggeringly scandalous bank fraud. The first two thirds of the book were great, bouncing around the different characters and heading toward an explosive climax. But then the author curiously seems to run out of steam, and the wrap up seems a bit contrived and hurried, and it falls flat, dragging the rest of the story down with it. I’d give it a 3.5, but for the delightful lines like, “The voice at the other end sounds a little fractured as though drink and disappointment have lodged permanently in the vocal cords.” , I’m rounding it up instead of down.
(A fairly high Booker zipability index too! ( ;-) )