After the sexual shenanigans of the 20th century’s great authors from Graham Greene to Martin Amis books appeared on the subject of the creative debt literature owes to adultery; now, with financial shenanigans at the front of our minds, it is entirely appropriate that books acknowledge the creative debt literature owes to debt.
After the sexual shenanigans of the 20th century’s great authors — from Graham Greene to Martin Amis — books appeared on the subject of the creative debt literature owes to adultery; now, with financial shenanigans at the front of our minds, it is entirely appropriate that books acknowledge the creative debt literature owes to debt.
Times of financial crisis and literary productivity are in fact the closest of companions: many authors have written from poverty, and no shortage have left the world of finance in order to write. The archetypal scrimping scribbler is Balzac, whose poverty is legendary: the empty square above his fireplace in which he had written ‘Picture by Raphael’; the burglar who was told that if Balzac could not find any money, he would not; the book he wrote in a week to pay for his mother’s funeral. Hemingway was so poor he poached pigeons from a Parisian park; Orwell, of course, was down and out in Paris and London. (Perhaps it’s just Paris.)
Still, most of the fiction about finance which will be emerging from our current detour through poverty is probably going to be exploitative pulp fiction, with anti-heroic bankers undergoing all manner of torments in the nine circles of nationalisation (fifth circle: pay restraint). Today’s Dante will be led through the Inferno by Robert Peston, emerging into Paradise to see the smiling face of Obama, shining beatifically from above, as a choir of central bankers strew shreds of CDOs in front of Peston’s feet. The great novels will surely not emerge until we have gained distance from the crisis, perspective on it.
Novels inspired by modern finance — modern, not that well-known 1980s tome of excess without which no clichéd piece on books and finance is complete — will not take up a decent foot of your bookshelf. Hearteningly, Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, shortlisted for the forthcoming Spear’s Book Awards and featuring an equities analyst and an entrepreneur-gangster in the wake of 9/11, is 4,435 places above Hedge Fund Wives by Tatiana Boncompagni in the Amazon.com bestselling lists.
Books are not guaranteed to alleviate poverty, hence the idée fixe of the typewriters of the tubercular in Parisian garrets. One must write through love of writing, says the moraliser. Even if former financiers are not yet on their uppers, this should not deter them: their experience and their imagination are ripe for fiction and memoirs.
To help these books along, Spear’s is pleased to announce that, in partnership with the new creative writing Academy of Faber & Faber, home of former banker T.S. Eliot and novelists such as William Golding and Kazuo Ishiguro, we will be holding a two-day seminar in September for would-be authors from the world of finance. For anyone crunched or under-employed, the bestseller lists beckon.