Not a crime novel, but another that falls into the post-credit crunch, financial services sector examination genre which I like to foray into now and again. Or so you may think from the cover, but it’s actually a lot more.
Focusing on protagonist Charles Wales, This Bleeding City follows the lives of Charlie and his friends Henry and Vero as they embark on adult life and try to work out what they want it to be, what they want to make of it. They meet at Edinburgh University where Charlie, from a modest background, engages with the better off and develops an ambition for wealth.
Unsurprisingly, the trio join the workforce in London. Vero pursues a career in the law and Charlie joins a hedge fund, Silverbirch, based on Berkeley Square. Henry takes a more creative route in the media as a photojournalist. All take a bite of the cherry but find it to be sour on times, with the big financial rewards too remote. While Vero slogs and studies for imminent exams, Charlie finds boredom and drudgery in the office. Henry simply loses his way. Re-examination of their goals follows swiftly or slowly, leading to a change of focus. And in the world of heterosexual relationships and friendships, change comes as fast as a greyhound racing.
The real skeleton on which everything hangs in this novel is composed of those changing relationships and the process of growing up. The work environment and the culture of the City provide the muscles. Preston’s prose can be a delight to read. Even when at the simplest level, he can immediately conjure up the correct picture of capitalism at conference:
…We all sat around the boardroom table at eight a.m., Yannis dipping an almond croissant in a Starbucks latte, Madison throwing back espressos, Catrina breathing into a cupped hand to see whether last night’s gin was still there. Euphonium ate a sandwich that his wife made him for lunch: ham and cheese and pickle at ten past eight in the morning…
But, coming back to that part of the global economy based in the UK, that casts a shadow over the UK’s own value, Preston enlightens with this:
…I watched their actions with a respectful horror. They were making a fortune, but they were destroying the system in which their success would have been a frame of reference…
How good it was to read that from an author who still works in the sector; one who can take a step back and see the bigger picture and its impact.
This Bleeding City draws you in immediately with a prologue of potential impending doom on a personal and individual level. It concerns a very young child and the novel then explains how those circumstances came about. This novel seems to say, for all the billions and trillions washing around the globe, quality of life matters more on every level.
This is a début novel from Preston and he shows immense skill in both storytelling and writing technique. In the bull market of fiction, he will certainly grab the readers’ horns and I suspect he will only get better.
This Bleeding City was published on 4 March. Preston’s second child, a daughter and with superb timing, arrived early, very near the date. Congratulations to the author on both!
Author website: Alex Preston.
With thanks to Faber & Faber for the copy read.