Saturday, 30 January 2010
An enthralling race through the anarchy, selfishness and ultimately vandalism of financial capital. It puts the last decade of capitalist "development" in context and is taut as a thriller in its last couple of chapters.
Although many of the processes are complex Gillian Tett explores the foundations of them well so even if you get a little bit lost you have the basic understanding of what the bankers were getting up to.
Her journalistic style makes it readable but I would criticise the referencing which is patchy. It seems to be trying to nod its head to academic work (Tett studied anthropology prior to FT journalism) but not fully engaging with it. The references either should have been ditched or more fully developed. Perhaps the latter could not happen because of speed of publication as it is pretty contemporary.
Though Tett states in the conclusion that she is angry over the mayhem unleashed by the banks her prose does not really reflect this in the way say Naomi Klein would. Understandable given the different politcal complexions but this position is a boon here. Taking a fairly diffident style in reporting the banks dealings in credit derivatives as they get more and more ludicrous is actually pretty effective.
I am not 100% sure why she chooses to focus her discussion through the prism of JPMorgan and she occassionally falls into the trap of character biography of some of the protagonists (see Robert Peston review from last year) but normally pulls back from the brink.
It definitely deepened my understanding of how the banks pursued profits through essentially gambling on losses and defaults, hedging their bets, swapping risks and expanding credit exponentially. It made me angry and I will use it for future reference.
One quote to show the madness - when the sub-prime mortgages started to default in big numbers in 2006 the banks actually increased their exposure to it : " Between Oct and Dec 2006 banks issued a record $130 billion in CDOs alone double the level of a year ago and 40% were created from sub-prime mortgages". And they wonder why people dont trust the banks!
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
Not the first way you would think of spending New Years Day reading about a multiple murder in Mid West in the 1950s but I am really glad I did.
An incredibly well written book which although based on a real-life incident is an example of how to write experimental narrative. Using multiple voices - witness statements, materials from the killers, newspaper articles, academic journals to explore amorality. It was labelled "New Journalism" but it is more indicative of a modern novel.
The sense of location is strong - funnily enough it reminded me of two non - fiction books I have read in the last few years - Collapse and Fast Food nation which although about very different topics gave a similar picture of the Mid-West in the States - the people, landscape nature of the environment.
As a form of combining fiction with real events you are never sure when Capote is expanding on the truth or simply making it up. But he is such a good writer that is not a hindrance - only I suppose if you wanted it as historical document. A criticism is that Capote got too close to murderers but the narrator's voice is quite absent - Capote is only directly referred to at one point near the end of the book. This occurred to such an extent I wasnt sure if he was present at the execution - he was apparently.
Moral ? Well it's definitely not a campaigning book against a miscarriage of justice it does show the mess society and families can make of people or how supportive it can be. It also shows the randomness of brutal violence - like being struck with lightening as the investigating cop calls it. Very influential and I am intrigued to read Capote's other material.