Seems I spoke too soon a bit ago when I asked, rather rhetorically, in my book blog: where is a current novel to compare with Zola's The Kill when it comes to dealing with the causes of our economic woes?
Marina Lewycka's hilarious Various Pets Alive and Dead does
just that, however, It begins in early September 2008, ends a year or
so later, and in between hits many of the high points of radical
politics in Britain in the last quaarter of the 20th century.
main characters include Doro and Marcus, a couple who fetched up in a
hugh old house in coal mining country, just as Margaret Thatcher and
economic forces were conspiring to shut down that industry. Their three
children--school teacher Clara, math whiz Serge and Down's syndrome
sweetie Oolie-Anna--are trying to make their own lives, free of their
parents' do-gooder, pacifist ways. Other characters include Serge's
comrades in the fields of finance, the other residents who passed
through the old house/commune, and Clara's fellow teachers.
they do is very funny: I laughed out loud every 25 pages or so, and I
read late into the night for sheer pleasure. Mixed in with the farce,
however, is a great deal of information about the financial shenanigans
that lead to the collapse of the housing bubble. Nowhere else have I
come across such a digestible exposition of the mathematical models that
underlie the making of financial "products" and manipulation of the
stock market. Bravo for Lewycka for doing what legions of business
writers haven't done while telling an engaging story!
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian,
Lewycka's first big novelistic success (she's written four in all)
also mixes fact and story. But whereas it looks backward to the Ukraine
of the 1930s and 1940s and immigrant life in post-War England, Various Pets... is as contemporary as the latest computer hardware update.
might not recognize Lewycka as working his tradition--can't think of a
moment when he was funny--but they belong in the same company of writers
who deal honestly with the world as they see it in books that people
are going to want to read.