Alex Preston’s debut novel is by no means autobiographical, though it is a reflection of the insights he gained when working in the city of London in the boom years preceding the 2008 recession. Preston, by his own admission, does not intend the book to carry a political message, but rather seeks to explore the emotional impact the recession had on the individual.
The narrative follows the life of Charlie Wales, a character clearly inspired by the protagonist of the same name in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Babylon Revisited. After an ordinary middle-class upbringing, Wales decides post-university to pursue the highlife and enter the city of London for the sole purpose of becoming ostentatiously wealthy.
His ambition is achieved when he begins working at a hedge fund. Consequently he enters the glittering, exclusive world of London’s super rich. Yet just as he is settling in, the credit crunch rears its ugly head, and Charlie and his colleagues must fight for survival.
Running parallel to these events is Charlie’s love life, where greed also features as a prominent theme. Charlie grows attached throughout the book to kind and gentle women, but all the time is filled with lust for Velo, a romantic interest he developed at university. French and beautiful, Velo might be flawless but for her own materialist character which rivals even Charlie’s.
This book is perfect for anybody who is interested in considering the emotional impact of economic events on Western society. The novel captures deep sentiments each of us will likely have experienced as we (hopefully) soon travel through the back end of the recession towards growth. Are we less willing to take risks? Less blinded by ambition in our pursuit of love? More compassionate towards the disadvantaged having shared in their plight?
Preston writes in a style that echoes that of his literary hero Fitzgerald and matches his fast-paced narrative. Likewise, he shares Fitzgerald’s talent for describing scenes that the reader does not usually have an opportunity to observe. Preston opens our eyes into a world where bankers quickly shoot up in the office toilets and then resume tinkering with the global financial markets.
A parable for our times, This Bleeding City offers a very gritty and very human perspective on the recession and those who some would hold responsible for it.