THIS fast-paced novel, the second from accountant and author, Margaret Scott, is set in Dublin’s International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in 2011.
It’s about the fight for survival in a highly competitive environment, the fictional Deutsche Kommerziale Bank (DKB).
As Geraldine, the HR manager reflects, on receiving a solicitor’s letter: “What kind of a company was this?”
She had heard all about toxic banks and “DKB had prided itself on not being one of them. But it was toxic. The humans within its walls were toxic.
The motives behind sending this letter were what? Revenge? Trying to get even? Whatever happened to taking whatever hand life dealt you on the chin and just getting on with it?”
But that would be to deny the forces of ego and pride, not to mention the desire for justice.
Scott’s main characters are four women, three of whom have children. In the world of high-powered finance, mothers are something of a liability.
There’s Olivia who was basically bullied out of her job by her seemingly uncaring boss, Leona.
A mother herself, the hardened Leona oversaw a campaign to get rid of Olivia.
Kate, who has returned to work after time out to look after her two children, recognises she is in danger of suffering a fate similar to that of Olivia.
This, despite a Machiavellian scheme that convinces poor Kate that she is up for promotion.
Then, there’s Mary who’s sick of being taken advantage of and is peeved that Kate seems to be earmarked for the job she wants.
Mary doesn’t have children. She is having a secretive affair with a senior colleague at DKB who occasionally visits the Dublin office.
Leona is the most interesting character. Ostensibly a tough woman who gives her all to the job to the extent of staying very late at the office, neglecting her unemployed husband and missing out on her young daughter’s school plays, she is conflicted.
A part of her would like another child. But her husband is already resentful at being stuck at home with one child. However, he is not without blame.
He lost his job and his grandiose schemes mean that there are debts to be paid. He is also used to a high standard of living.
Leona is trying to give her family material comfort. Despite herself, she can’t help seeking emotional comfort from one of her male colleagues.
Rob sees something in Leona that is not obvious to her other colleagues.
Will she succumb? She may not be principled when it comes to the sisterhood, but Leona struggles morally over the implications of an extra-marital affair.
As her world starts to implode, personally and professionally, Leona is forced to confront herself.
The story unfolds over a few intense weeks. The narrative voice switches between the various characters.
Each chapter is short and to the point.
There are no lengthy descriptions of the environs. Instead, the focus is on who did what and why.
There are extracts from recorded interviews with ancillary characters, carried out by the German head office as part of its inquiry to find out what went wrong at DKB.
There is also Olivia’s crucial testimony of how she walked from her job one tense Friday. As she recounts, she had no option but to leave her job.
This is a gripping tale of skewed priorities and the unfair way in which working mothers are treated.
As Leona says at one point: “It takes a certain kind of woman, with a certain drive and focus, to be able to maintain the same level of career after she’s had children, to the one she had before children.”
Even for Leona, this proves to be one hell of a challenge.
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