Longlisted for the Orange Prize 2012

As this novel opens, Geri Molloy is devastated, seeking to bury her pain with a cocktail of booze, prescription pills and more booze.  Dumped by her boyfriend of 4 years, a few months previously, life has been nought but painful since and Geri is letting herself go … dangerously, dwelling only on the finale of this relationship.

Every time I replay the closing act I tell myself it’s desensitisation I’m seeking, that I’m hoping to reach a point where I can fast-forward, that I will become jaded by the story of my own abandonment. Instead I review it in salacious detail as if I might find some unexplored detail, some new prick of pain.  Maybe there is a hidden code in the final act that will transform the story and reveal its true meaning.  Didn’t I learn that lesson at close range from my own family all those years ago: how the ending becomes the whole story.  How it becomes the new beginning that shapes the rest of your life.  How the last act becomes the defining moment, all that happened and all that you remember: the family in the grip of a crisis, the healing that never happened.

Life without Stephen (the BF) is unbearable and she cares not one jot for anything else in her life (except the dog).  She cannot compartmentalise at all,  which is quite extraordinary because Geri works on the floor: the trading floor of a city investment bank and she is a hotshot, earning a six-figure salary. A successful woman in a man’s environment.    Although the more we hear about Geri and her life, the clearer it becomes that she’s nothing more than an overworked corporate skivy, and her career is dependent on the largesse of one very important client.

Aifric Campbell (the first female MD on the trading floor at Morgan Stanley) is writing about what she knew and left behind and it’s not flattering.  “Greed is right” said Ivan Boeksy and that’s the maxim to which Geri, her bosses and peers adhere.  It’s all about profit and deals.  Ethics is a word  I suspect these characters wouldn’t know how to spell, much less define, particularly in the runup to the Gulf War of 1991, which  excites them as there is serious money to be made.

At work, Geri is one of the boys.   In many respects she’s heartless, shameless and at times amoral.  One of a pack, she even joins with the bullying of the “fat kid”  on the floor.  Stephen’s leaving her triggers a downward spiral, which is depicted with unflinching and increasingly uncomfortable psychological honesty until Geri is literally brought to the floor with grief and sorrow at  her own foolishness.  At this point I was about to applaud the author – it was all so brilliantly done and then … a descent into melodrama, of the most unnecessary kind, with a lame resolution given the power of what had proceeded it. Nonetheless not so weak as to ruin the novel in its entireity – particularly as there is an argument that this incident  is Geri’s captivity to the world of men made manifest, and the point at which she starts to think of the need for a different finale.

For all the grittiness, cynicism and cast of unlikeable characters – not one of them comes away from this unblemished, least of all the “heroine” –  this novel proved an absorbing read.  2 sittings:  the second a satisfying 3-hour race to the finish.