Here we are – exactly what you need for a gratifying few hours on the beach this summer, just as the credit crunch starts to bite. You’ve always suspected that the City is staffed by crass, greedy, coked-out imbeciles – extravagantly rewarded parasites whose “expertise” is the very definition of smoke and mirrors, whose ability to predict shifts in the market owes more to blind chance than anything remotely rational or objective. Charlatans whose modus operandi has less to do with the close perusal of spreadsheets and the application of an analytical mind than guesswork allied to epic self-interest.
Geraint Anderson was once something in the City (a broker, an analyst, whatever), a smug, egotistical, numb-nosed ball of laddish venality, and this is his story, which confirms everything you might have suspected, and then some. Anderson has changed the names of the banks and the people, and is elliptical when asked whether this is a novel or pretty much straight reportage of his decade trousering vast sums of cash. He wants to have it both ways, I suppose, much as he did when working for “Scheissebank” and others. You would bet that he has conflated stuff, made things up, exaggerated, lied, cheated, dissembled and so on – in other words, taken exactly the same approach to the writing of this book that he seems to have brought to his work in the City. Perhaps that is the point. He has even changed his name; the protagonist here, a singularly repellent character, is called “Steve Jones”.
Anderson would have been better off writing a proper exposé of the witless, joyless, grasping moneyed hordes who work in the square mile, maybe, because the straight sections in his book dealing with such mysterious bollocks as hedge funds, insider trading (everyone does it), the spreading of false rumour in order to inflate a share price and so on, are extremely good and a service to mankind. Unfortunately, Anderson still has a bit of that City-boy arrogance in his soul, much as he tells us that he has now disavowed it. He thinks, you see, that he’s Jay McInerney or Martin Amis, so we get a “novel” instead. He really, really, isn’t McInerney or Amis, sadly. He has hugely overvalued his stock as a novelist; he has bet on a dog. And equally clearly his publisher, who is marketing this book as nonfiction, wishes us to believe that it’s all God’s honest truth, guv, and not a “novel” at all.
Still, it’s worth reading, if you can drag your way through the repetitive, clichéd prose (money talks, bullshit walks, living the dream, crazy name, crazy guy etc) and the woeful, coarse similes and allusions that Anderson thinks are terribly amusing in an outré, blokeish kind of way, “sweating like a paedophile at Disneyland” and so on. You discover that almost everybody who works in the city is unspeakably vile and – worse – a bit thick, that the city is too laxly regulated, and that our current economic prosperity is based upon nothing tangible apart from the profit to be made from the continuing fluctuations between greed and its antonym fear. You probably knew all that already, but it’s good to have it confirmed once in a while.
Aside from the sharp and genuinely revelatory glimpses of how the big investment banks go about their work (and which, to give Anderson credit, is well written), the book’s most compelling theme is the author’s own ambivalence about the job into which he fell having spent a while trekking the world like a back-packing druggie hippie. There is enough self-loathing and pride in here to keep Freud working for years – much of it stems from Anderson’s relationship with his father, a “left-wing public servant”, who, having worked hard for 40 years, still earned every year less than a tenth of that hauled in by his son. Rightly, Anderson reckons this is probably an unjust state of affairs. But for most of the book, he thinks this only in his dark moments, when the coke has worn off, or his girlfriend has left him; the rest of the time he is every bit as amoral, callous and greedy as all the “rich w***ers” and “tossers” he jubilantly disparages.