Scandalous intrigue

2011-07-13 00:00

THE focus of Justin Cartwright’s new novel, Other People’s Money, is a London-based private bank, founded in 1671, and owned by the prosperous Tubal-Trevelyan family ever since. However, it is the time of the recent recession, and the bank is in serious difficulties.

The situation is compounded by the condition of the illustrious ­proprietor, Sir Harry Tubal-Trevelyan, who has had a stroke, that has necessitated his retirement to his property in Provence.

Of his two sons, one, Simon, has escaped the omnipotence of his ­father by becoming a serial adventurer to exotic locations, and the other, Julian, is reluctant to assume his father’s mantle. Given his brother’s absenteeism, however, Julian has no option and, faced with the imminent demise of the bank, he is forced to resort to dire measures. Banking, he realises, has made him a liar and a fraudster.

While Julian’s subterfuge and his efforts to keep things silent and secretive form the core of the novel, Cartwright gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of the super-rich, who exist somehow in private spaces separated from the world by their money and in a position to manipulate those who have little.

Colourfully, Cartwright creates the struggling Artair MacCleod, a playwright and actor-manager whose ex-wife, Fleur, is the current (unfaithful) Mrs Harry Tubal-Trevelyan. The antithesis of the Tubal-Trevelyan type, MacCleod is working on a script that he believes is a masterpiece suitable for the talents of Daniel Day-Lewis. The fact that his quarterly grant (a ­divorce settlement) from Tubal & Co fails to materialise is indicative of the woes of the bank, which also become known to a young freelance journalist, Melissa Tregarthen, when she receives unsolicited information regarding the shenanigans of its owners.

Cartwright begins his novel with a list of the guests at the thanksgiving service for the life of Sir Harry Tubal-Trevelyan at St Paul’s ­Cathedral. Carefully read, the names — in the tradition of Joyce and Scott Fitzgerald — reveal considerable information. He ends by reminding us that there are “many ways of telling the same story.” As a master in his field, he has selected his particular Cartwrightian way. It works well. The novel is topical, the satire biting, the outcomes not without surprises.

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