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Other People’s Money

In my post earlier today, I wrote about Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful, which I finished yesterday morning, as well as books I began in late August or early September only to put aside in sequence, one for the next. I’ve now worked my way through all of them but one, one that has gone unmentioned: Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money.

Jim Fallows mentioned the novel in passing in a July blog post, describing it as “a corruscatingly wonderful novel I’ve just finished.” That got my attention. I immediately headed over to Amazon to check it out, saw that it was only 260 pages, and thought maybe I could fit it in with whatever else I was reading at the time. A few weeks later I downloaded it, read the first 15 pages, but then abandoned it, probably in favor of the Lewis-Kraus book. With Lewis-Kraus done yesterday, it was time to return to Cartwright, and so I have.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book, which was published a year and a half ago in the UK.

The upper-crust, family-owned bank of Tubal & Co, in the City of London, is in trouble. It’s not the first time in its three hundred and forty year history, but it may be the last. A secret sale is under way, and a number of facts need to be kept hidden from the regulators and major clients. Masterminded by the bank’s chariman, Julian Trevelyan-Tubal, hundreds of millions of pounds are being diverted – temporarily – to shore the bank up until it can be sold. Julian’s aging father, Sir Harry, incapacitated by a stroke at the family villa in Antibes, would be horrified. He is still writing barely intelligible letters to Julian, which advise him to stick to the time-honoured traditions of the bank. Had his son taken his advice, the bank might still be solvent.

Inevitably great families have secrets; lovers, old partners, or retainers who resent not being part of the family, all have a habit of turning awkward. When an alimony payment from the bank – disguised as a charitable donation – to an abandoned husband, the penniless-but-heroic actor-manager Artair MacCleod, fails to arrive, the initial trickle of doubt swell into a torrent of catastrophe for the family.

Other People’s Money is a gripping and often hilarious story, an acutely delineated portrait of a world and a class. Justin Cartwright manipulates our sympathies effortlessly, unwinding the story with gentle satire and acute, beautifully phrased insights into the eccentricities and weaknesses of the human condition.

So far so good. I’d sure love to visit that family villa in Antibes. In the meantime, I have 80 pages to go, and I’m guessing the villa will have to be put on the market. That might present the opportunity to check it out.

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