THIS BLEEDING CITY BY ALEX PRESTON FABER, 304pp, £12.99
BANKERS asking the rest of us to feel sorry for them smacks of self-absorption. Yet this is the reaction that financier Alex Preston seems to want from his debut novel, This Bleeding City, one of the first fictionalised accounts of the financial crisis to be written by an insider.
All the clichs of the City are there: the cocaine, the lapdancers, the rogue trading. But Preston has ambitions above the traders-go-nuts romps of the likes of Geraint Anderson's Cityboy. He wants this to be an attack on materialism, a Bonfire of the Vanities for our time. But what could have been an expos of this "greed is good" world is let down by its introspective, hackneyed and confused approach.
Preston's protagonist is Charlie Wales, who leaves university in Edinburgh hoping "to become swiftly, splendidly rich". Yet before he even gets his job at a Mayfair hedge fund, Charlie appears jaded with the whole idea. His motivations are vague, never fully explaining the sacrifices he makes.
And although Charlie admits that there is "something gross" about the excess, the ever-flowing champagne and the flashy cars, and says his work is "stultifying", he willingly becomes a pill-popping, lapdancer-groping Mammon-worshipper. So his "boohoo, I'm a banker" world-weariness appears an affectation. If he really hates his job, the reader wonders, why doesn't he just quit? A cynic would suggest most of Charlie's tears can be wiped away with coke-lined 50 notes.
The rest of the characters are thinly drawn, including Charlie's best friends– Vero, a sometime lover, and toffish Henry. The former is a schoolboy's clichd fantasy of a French woman: she says "bof", swims topless and smashes champagne glasses. As if to mock this portrayal, on the front cover she is wearing a Breton top. There is little more depth to Charlie's co-workers: the bookish and bullied Madison; Eurotrash personified in the form of fellow-portfolio manager Yannis; and the chief executive who "drank fine wines and kept a mistress", and says: "It's not a question of which Porsche but how many."
Beyond the clichs, the great shame is that This Bleeding City reveals nothing new about how the financial meltdown occurred, beyond the apparent self-obsession of its orchestrators. You soon realise that it is not actually about banking at all: Preston's real subject is how you can be young, rich and still unhappy. With the downturn still biting, unfortunately this comes across as the self-indulgent musings of someone still both young and rich himself.