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Sex among the spreadsheets

3 September 2016

9:00 AM

3 September 2016

9:00 AM

Playing FTSE Penelope Jacobs

Silver Wood, pp.257, £9.99

This exhilaratingly lowbrow first novel concentrates on money and lust or, to put it more bluntly, sex and the City. Its young heroine or chief victim — or is she actually the villain? — has already joined an investment bank and had her first one-night stand a few minutes before this savage saga begins.

Melanie is in her early twenties: a beautiful, sexy, grumpy, materialistic, high-octane whizz-kid who hated Christmas Day even as a child. As we soon learn, she’s far keener on sex than romance and makes no secret of her addiction to alcohol. But that’s only half the picture. She’s also an adrenalin-rich workaholic with a bafflingly instinctive grasp of financial markets, corporate events, spreadsheets, hedge funds, networking initiatives and even stock- market crashes. In a matter of months, she has risen through the ranks, become a vice-president of her bank, built up a fan club — and been branded ‘a fucking idiot’ by one of her bosses.

As this caffeine- and nicotine-spattered horror story gathers momentum, we meet any number of fossils, bitches, shits, sluts and scumbags — their words, not mine — and at least one chortling banker who looks as though he’s come straight out of a Brooks Brothers catalogue. We soon discover that Melanie’s new rapist lover is already married and hear a lot more about her ecstasy in bed and her multiple hangovers. At a rough guess, I’d say that a million bottles of wine or champagne are opened in the course of this story, a lot of them at lunchtime. This last factor may account for Melanie’s failure to stay away from men at work.

This increasingly multi-dimensional and dialogue-rich book not only incorporates vibrating mobiles, sackings and financial crises — ‘the market’s nuts right now,’ mutters another lover boss — but also includes two or three upbeat references to Pret and a passing plug for St Paul’s Cathedral, hovering serenely over the pulsating dirt tracks of the City.

Early on, we also meet Melanie’s thoroughly decent twin brother and his girlfriend, who have a vital walk-on role as a happy couple and to whom, of course, our heroine is repeatedly horrible. At their wedding, Melanie finally re-encounters her estranged father — and is even nastier to him than before.

Does this tale have any moral or message, other than to reinforce the warning on the cover that it’s never a good idea to mix business with pleasure? It’s certainly a relief when the poor girl finds herself briefly alone in a ‘gloriously basic’ beach hut in the Caribbean. In the last few pages — never mind about the £3 million-pound house she’s just bought in Bayswater — there are gentle clues that, on the eve of her 30th birthday, she may have found peace at last in the arms of the refreshingly straightforward art dealer with whom she had enjoyed her first one-night stand some seven years earlier.

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