OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY by Justin Cartwright
“Usually he finds flights relaxing. Once you are up there in the nothingness you can plunge deep into your own thoughts. But tonight he is troubled. [...] The cabin lights are dimmed and he’s now sitting all alone in a bright cone directed from the overhead lamp towards his table. The light seems to suggest that he is under interrogation. It’s at these moments he knows that he is not really cut out to be a financial mogul.”
Review by Roger Brunyate Â (JUN 1, 2011)
This is Julian Trevelyan-Tubal, CEO of Tubals’, the last family-owned bank in London, founded by his ancestor Moses Tubal over three centuries before. He stands uneasily in the titanic shadow of his father, Sir Harry Trevelyan-Tubal, still the titular head of the bank, but long since removed from day-to-day affairs. Sir Harry lives in luxury in his villa in Antibes, his mind damaged by a stroke, dictating daily letters to his son which only his secretary Estelle understands and even reads. He is unaware of changes at the bank since his days in the office. Adventures in the hedge fund and derivatives markets have caused much the same damage to Tubals’ as to other banks, and now Julian must fly to Liechtenstein to divert Â£250,000,000 illegally from the family trust to contain the damage long enough for him to sell the bank and get out, keeping this a secret from the financial world and even his own relatives.
For tradition and the appearance of probity are everything in banking. Moses Tubal’s descendants have long since been assimilated into the establishment, generations of English gentlemen produced by “years of evolution, fostered by rugby, cold showers, beating, poor food and study of the classics,” as Justin Cartwright wittily remarks. The guest-list for Sir Harry’s memorial service, with which the book opens in a leap-ahead prologue, is virtually the cream of British society, including such wonderful titles as “the Earl and Countess of Wendover, the Macallan of that Ilk and Lady Macallan, the Malcolm, Lord of the Western Isles,” and so on for two pages. When Sir Harry, a patron of the arts (and of its female practitioners), chose beautiful but only moderately talented actress Fleur MacCleod as his second wife, a quarterly payment was arranged for her first husband, a down-at-heel theater director called Artair, to keep him out of the way. In handling the transition following Sir Harry’s death, it is important that the irreproachable facade be maintained.
However, as the family regroup after the funeral, stresses begin to appear. Julian’s elder brother Simon returns from abroad and wants a part in things. Fleur is having an affair which may not easily be hushed up and the others regard her as a loose cannon. Estelle has an agenda of her own, and knows things that the others would not want told. But the most dangerous threat of all is almost trivial: when the bank cuts off the allowance paid to Fleur’s first husband Artair, a young reporter at the local newspaper named Melissa wants to know the reason why. The scenes set in Cornwall, the seagirt province where Artair recycles productions of “The Wind in the Willows” and “Thomas the Tank Engine” while writing a movie script that he fondly believes will be taken up by no less than Daniel Day-Lewis, make a break from the doings of the plutocracy, though they also seem less solid.
This may not be what is called “literary fiction,” but it is certainly literate — consistently well-written and with mostly believable characters. Think Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga for a new century; think Jeffrey Archer, only better; think Alan Hollingsworth’s The Line of Beauty without the gay sex. As a financial thriller, it is slow to get going and does not quite deliver at the end, but it does something more valuable. Quite remarkably, virtually all the characters are sympathetic, and most of them develop in depth as the financial and family pressures are released; this is especially true of Fleur, who starts as a stereotypical trophy wife and becomes more and more admirable and real. Even though Julian passes through a period where he begins to look like the villain of the piece, he too ends up rounder and warmer. Cartwright does not seem to have decided whether Artair is a caricature or a true artist, but either way he is fun. I confess to being disappointed by the curiously abrupt ending which is not entirely redeemed by an epilogue tying up all the loose threads one paragraph at a time. But that is a minor flaw; there is much here to enjoy.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 7 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Bloomsbury USA (April 12, 2011)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on Justin Cartwright|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett
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