Posted by: Corri van de Stege | October 12, 2008

The Sunday Salon – following the trail of fictional financiers, bankers and ruthless dealers


This is a very full and busy Sunday Salon with more reading and writing than I can possibly fit into a single day or even week. There is so much that I have moved everything to the dining room table – my desk is too small.

Yesterday I reviewed Stef Penney’s The Loneliness of Wolves, as promised a week ago.   However, I could not leave thinking about my post on Tuesday (Great Wealth leads to Great Art (books?), when I mentioned William Skedelsky’s article in the Observer last week, commenting on the lack of fictional writing that depicts the world we live in through the eyes of high finance.  Yesterday’s Guardian places a letter by a Carole Satyamurti in response to Nakaj Mishra’s article the previous week, on a similar subject and says that ‘Pankaj Mishra … has difficulty trying to recall good literary fiction about the world of high finance, yet does not mention Tom Wolfe’s the Bonfire of the Vanities………[which] is trenchant, hilarious, wicked and a wonderful portrait of New York.’  I haven’t read this, have you?  Have you reviewed it?

The continuing decline and confusing mess of high finance, of stockmarkets, banks and the world economy in general have convinced me even more that someone somewhere out there surely is now writing that book on the life of a banker, a finance wizard, an economist, and is exposing all the dirty tricks, underhandedness and selfish wheeling and dealing,   that appears to have become second nature to a lot of people and that they evidently don’t even question as perhaps morally questionable.  And is telling us about what impact all this has on their daily lives, their relationships, their families, etc. If I had the time, and had no day job,  I’d like to do just that!

As if everyone is completely focused now on trying to pinpoint to fiction that deals with this issue, Andrew Davies in today’s Observer provides an insight into his adaptation of Dickens’ Little Dorrit for television.  He reflects on the relevance of Little Dorrit to today’s world of credit crunch and debt and financial misery:  the world of Little Dorrit has many resonances with our own.  Honest businessmen struggle while City financiers spin money out of nothing.  The Institutions of government, epitomised in the Office of Circumlocution, are complacent, incompetent, uncaring.  Everyone’s in debt.’

In an accompanying article ‘Why Dickens is so relevant today’, the historian Tristram Hunt notes  that Little Dorrit is one of the 19th century’s most unforgiving critiques of capitalism – it’s a rich text, he says, for our supremely troubled financial times as in the book the degrading reality of bankruptcy is centre-stage.

In fact, loneliness is the main theme and is the ‘product of greed and materialism, the hubris and inhumanity, which dictate their lives and link their fortunes’.

Bank cover-ups, toxic debt and negligent regulation were as redolent a feature of the mid-Victorian epoch as now.

In addition, I followed up Skedelsky’s suggestion (see comments under my Tuesday post) and reference to David Foster Wallace.  Prospect Magazine (the previous home of WS) has an article by Julian Gough on David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide only a month ago.  Julian Gough discusses his novel Infinite Jest and as WS notes, the book is not really about business, but ‘paints a picture of corporatized America of the future’.    The book is amongst others on top of my tbr pile…

In the meantime there are a number of other books on my table, some of which are related to the writing course and which I use as source material, others are there because of your recommendations or because I stumbled across them in reviews or via other books:

There’s Wartime Women, edited by Dorothy Sheridan, Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘The Crafty Art of Playmaking (his plays, The Norman Conquest, are now showing in the Vic in London), another book on diaries, this time of post-war Britain, Our Lives, by Simon Garfield and finally I started reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.  This book is very readable and lucid and one particular paragraph early on in the book struck me as so true of our memories and how fickle these are.  When listening to an old man reminiscing about ‘the good old times’, he writes:

I had to remind myself that [his] fondness of this bygone era involved a certain selective memory: He had airbrushed out of the picture the images of the Southern Caucasus denouncing proposed civil rights legislation……; the insidious power of McCarthyism; the numbing poverty……; the absence of women and minorities in the halls of power’

Enjoy your Sunday! 



  1. I think I read The Bonfire of the Vanities years ago and remember it as a good book. I do know it was much, much better than the movie.

    I work in a bookstore and lately the owners have been getting several Wallace books in, including Infinite Jest. I may get it to next year sometime. 😉

    I’m at my parents right now. They have dial-up so I’m not able to look at your links, but I look forward to doing so later today when I return home. They all look very…intriguing.

  2. I read The Bonfire of the Vanities a couple of years back, long before I started reviewing. I enjoyed it, but I did get the feeling that it was heavily padded. There was a lot of material in there that I didn’t think added much, if anything, to the story as a whole. The book could’ve been much shorter.

  3. I had started The Tenderness of the Wolves long time ago. Despite it being a good book, I have not got around it yet.

    Sometimes reading takes a backseat.

    SS is where the action is

  4. Such an interesting post today! I’m smiling at the idea of some fresh, ambitious young novelist penning a potboiler about a banker caught in this mesh of corruption. I wish I were smart enough to do it!!

    Also interesting to read about the parallels between Dickens (and his times) and our own. The Victorian era did have it’s share of corruption – as does every era, if you look closely enough.

  5. Very interesting Salon you have today, seachanges. The movie on shady finance that springs to mind for me is Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987). We’ll have to see which writers get there first with your idea! Thanks for the link re Wallace. Have been interested to read more about him (and add him to the TBR pile as well).

  6. unfinished person: hope you found the links…
    memory: so I can put that one at the bottom of the tbr pile, by the sounds of it.
    gautami: trouble is that there is too much to read, I think we’re all in the same boat. In the end you’ve got to go for what interests you, otherwise you can run around like a headless chicken and never catch up with yourself.
    Becca: and I thought you might pick up the challenge 🙂
    Pete: I haven’t seen the Oliver Stone movie (I think I was living in Iran at the time…). Yes, I’m curious who will come out first with a novel!

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