Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Hilarious, ironic tale of bankers gone wild
REMEMBERING simpler times, we chuckle at Stephen Leacock's traumatic banking experience in his humorous short story My Financial Career, and his decision to safeguard his savings by tucking them away in a sock.
"Growing" a portfolio these days involves juggling volatile stocks, overvalued IPOs and risky bonds. Smart-suited money men promise high profits and ultimate happiness to trusting investors on the basis of their supposed advanced grasp of tricky markets.
In this hilarious, ripped-from-the-headlines novel about an oversized ego gone wild, Brit David Charters draws on his own experience as a banker that might serve as a red flag to investors.
Charters brings back his anti-hero, London investment banker Dave Hart, for the sixth time since his introduction in At Bonus Time, No One Can Hear You Scream (2009). Like the prequels, this story stands well alone.
Trust Me, I'm a Banker is rhythmically paced and carefully plotted as Dave slowly discloses the truth behind his bluster. He spends every moment, waking and asleep, manoeuvring against colleagues and lying to his boss about the "deals" he is snagging, his eye on the £1 million bonus he desperately needs to support his increasingly lavish lifestyle.
When his life comes crashing down, he responds by perfecting the art of the con. A stroke of luck and the willingness of others to be conned propel him to the top of the corporate ladder, with full control of the British wing of Grossbank, a conservative German banking house. Dave has arrived.
Astonishingly selfish, he will step over anyone to get what he wants, including a man who has the gall to die while Dave impatiently stands in a queue to board a plane. When a long-serving employee is fired, a momentary sensation of commiseration becomes a spring in his step and the hope he can capitalize on the vacuum in the firm. "This was the first good news in weeks."
Cynical and calculating, he proudly "outsources" his parenting, but spends thousands of pounds on toys so his three-year-old daughter can "have the best. Well, the most, anyway."
As his own crisis deepens and his schemes become more egregious, Charters has Dave repeat the rationale for his lies. How else can he justify his obsession with accumulating expensive bling and showing up his competitors? He experiences elation when hirelings take up his mantra "Grossbank rocks."
The roller-coaster world of high finance and debt is grist for novelists. Charters' countryman John Lanchester has just released Capital, which tracks the changing circumstances of neighbours when a formerly lower-middle-class street in London becomes gentrified.
Not to tarnish all investment bankers, Charters includes characters whose philanthropic activity is genuine and who do not display Dave's sense of entitlement and resentment toward anyone who worked hard to get ahead. Yet, despite compiling in Dave the worst qualities he saw in his fellow workers, Charters' razor-sharp commentary and sense of irony draws the reader's sympathies for Dave, whose dizzying ascent can't last forever.
In an era when a rogue trader like Nick Leeson can eliminate our life's savings with the testosterone-charged click of a mouse, we may wonder if Leacock wasn't right. After laughing through Charters's novel, some of us may be rooting through our drawers, looking for socks without holes.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2012 J9
(1 of 24 articles for this month)05/25/2013 1:00 AM 0