This is my review of Other People’s Money by Justin Cartwright.
This is a recent addition to the current crop of novels on life after the banking crisis. When Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal is felled by a stroke, chairmanship of the traditional, upmarket, family-run private bank, Tubal & Co, passes to a new broom, his son Julian. Seduced by hedge fund managers and the lure of gambling on derivatives, Julian finds himself saddled with "chunks of mortgages on an alligator farm in a swamp, two thousand worthless homes in Mississippi … a shopping mall in a town flattened by a hurricane…" to give you a flavour of Cartwright's barbed wit. The only solution is to poach money from his family trust fund, to tide the bank over whilst a sensitive sale goes through to a stinking rich, status-conscious Coney-Islander-made-good American banker. Clearly, this is the basis for a sufficient disaster to whet your interest, although things may not turn out quite as expected. Certainly, it was enough to hook me after an initially slow start with a good deal of "telling" rather than "showing" the reader what to think.
Having read several of Cartwright's books, I would say that he is on form as regards some sharp, lively dialogues (with the drawback that sometimes you cannot work out who is speaking – see page 200 of the first hardback edition – where was the editor?), striking descriptions and thought-provoking observations. Although stereotypes without exception, his characters are well-developed. I liked little touches like the visionary producer Artair Macleod being reduced to putting on "The Wind in the Willows".
My main reservation about the book is its focus on the super-rich who will be comfortably off even in the worst case scenario. There is no hint of the real hardship that millions of innocent people have suffered as a result of the banks' irresponsibility.
So, the book cannot be more than the enjoyable, fairly lightweight satire, into which it settles after the climax of a potential crisis has been defused. Yes, Cartwright is making the sardonic point that "the rich are always with us" and the establishment will always look after its own, but liitle more than that – apart from the observation on our general lack of idealism: "Now, nobody thinks about reaping the benefits of freedom; instead they hope to win the lottery or become celebrities".
Cartwright likes to weave in references to another writer, in this case Flann O'Brien's "At Swim-Two-Birds" which plays on the idea of a story having many beginnings and ends, and many ways of telling it, or that "events take place one way, and we recount them the opposite way". Apart from the fact that these insights are fairly self-evident, I do not think "Other People's Money" illustrates these points in a particularly striking way.