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Union Atlantic

August 24th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

I recently finished reading Union Atlantic, a debut novel by Adam Haslett – another book from Amazon’s Vine programme.  I was a bit underwhelmed by it.

To be fair, this might be partly due to my lack of sympathy for extraordinarily wealthy bankers who jeopardise the whole economy to make even more profit, though the book is not especially sympathetic to the main character.  It seems quite neutral towards him really.

The story concerns a veteran of the first Gulf War, who is now a senior executive at a Boston-based bank.   He finally decides to spend some of his money by building a huge house he doesn’t really seem to want or need.  His new house comes with a neighbour, a retired history teacher, who doesn;t like either the house or what it represents.  She starts a legal battle to have the house removed.

At the same time, things are not all going according to plan at the bank.  The best part of the book is where it explains a bit about how banks can get into trouble through aggressive/over-confident/reckless trading, a lack of regulation, and the by-passing of what regulation there is.

Here is what I wrote about it:

This debut novel is interesting enough and readable, but nowhere near as good as the hyped up comments on the dustsheet make it out to be. From the comments by people like Jonathan Franzen and Malcolm Gladwell I was expecting something like Tom Wolfe, but in a more manageable size.

The writing is good, but the story contains too many coincidences, to the extent that they are a distraction. The main character, bank executive Doug Fanning, has a neighbour who objects to his hosue being built next to her. Her brother happens to be high up in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, so he is involved in regulating Fanning’s work. Nate, a teenager who is going to the neighbour for extra tuition, just happens to be the son of Fanning’s boss at the bank. It is a small world, but surely not that small?

Or maybe life really is like that in the high-status New England environment?

The main body of the story gives a plausible account of the operations of a rogue trader and does a reasonable job of putting a human face to such activities, which are way outside the experience of most of us. As for the impact of such activities on ‘normal’ folk, the regulator character helps by dwelling on the way the stability of the banking system affects them.

This is not a bad book. I quite enjoyed it, and would recommend it as well worth reading for the perspective on bank collapses, but it is not the great American novel that its publicity makes it out to be.

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