By Alex Preston, Faber & Faber; £12.99
GERTRUDE STEIN told Ernest Hemingway that he was of a "lost generation". The characters in Alex Preston’s debut, This Bleeding City, can be spoken of in a similar, if inverted, way. Charlie Wales and his financial district peers experience unrivalled wealth and success until it is stripped from them and a drastic reality dawns. The book’s release is obviously well-timed.
The novel begins with Charlie in college, meeting his soulmates, a posh best friend in Henry and a seductive French femme called Vero. Having graduated, the gang decamp to London to chase the material dream. Charlie gets a job as an analyst for a big-time hedge fund, Vero works relentlessly in a solicitor’s office and Henry aspires to photography. Charlie is promoted at work, his job becomes more pressurised and hedonism abounds. The novel’s love stories take several wrenching twists, drawing the reader into genuinely moving moments. It is a book in which voices are half-drunk and knuckles are always white. What happens next is, well, inevitable. The market collapses, as does Charlie’s world. This Bleeding City details the ills of materialism — the delirium of boom and the wretchedness of bust — and offers art as a counter-reality. While making multimillion pound trades, Charlie dreams of being a theatre critic, an aspect that never convinces. As a debut the book has ups and downs and generally feels like it was rushed into print a draft or two early. Preston can write, but too often overwrites. The novel’s symbols are also overcooked. In one failed set-piece, office workers pause to watch a sunset, just as the reality of the crash is "sinking" in. The dialogue is too sentimental and rarely natural. But the novel’s honesty about youth is valid, if overdone, as is its exposure of a failed ideology. You sense that a good editor could have coaxed a much better (and shorter) book out of this, so let’s keep an eye on this lad.