Non-fiction: The Finance Curse

-Words by Zoe Southcott

In The Finance Curse – How Global Finance Is Making Us All Poorer, Nicholas Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands, argues that rather than pandering to financialised, tax-resistant, and predatory players, we would benefit more from investment that is embedded in and enriches the local economy.

Shaxson deftly unravels the complex strands of the financial network beyond our day-to-day transactions, and argues, in very readable terms, that our current financial system only benefits the few. The current system actually draws wealth away from Britain rather than creating it; “Once a financial sector grows above an optimal size and beyond its useful roles” Shaxson says, “it begins to harm the country that hosts it”.

Shaxson exposes the shift in ideology that has enabled the financial sector to turn, in self-serving fashion, on the rest of the economy.  He explains the mechanisms behind offshore tax havens, the growth of monopolies, and the industry of wealth management. He meticulously clarifies what the consequences of an agenda of competitiveness will be, and he does all this in a well thought out and readable way.

Shaxson eloquently emphasizes that there is no limit to the extent to which corporate players and the wealthy wish to benefit from taxes paid by the British people, without any concern for the stability of the national economy – eliminate their taxes and they will take more. Waiting for a change of heart on their part is eminently unlikely to yield results; instead it will be the people of Britain that will have to insist that its financial sector is regulated and taxed in a way that serves Britain better.

The Finance Curse is a well-argued and interesting call to action.  Shaxson’s chilling research is well delivered, as is his powerful moral message –  an unsettling read no doubt for those with vested interests.

The Finance Curse: How Global Finance Is Making Us All Poorer by Nicholas Shaxson, Bodley Head, 368pp, £20

Fiction: Killing Commendatore

-Words by Joe Williams

We’re on familiar ground in Haruki Murakami’s fourteenth novel, Killing Commendatore: strange events, first-person narration, a minimalist style, misogyny, classical music, and a pasta-cooking male protagonist made interesting by the fact his wife divorces him. This time, the narrating protagonist is an unnamed portrait painter from Tokyo who is left unfulfilled by his great commercial success. When his marriage fizzles out quietly he moves into the mountaintop home of his friend’s father, Tomohiko Amada, a hermitic yet renowned painter now in the final stages of dementia.

In the attic of this small, secluded house the protagonist finds the captivating Killing Commendatore, an unknown original canvas hidden by Amada that translates the death of the Commendatore from Mozart’s Don Giovanni into a violent scene in the style of the Japanese Asuka period. Soon after, we meet the mysterious Mr Menshiki, an incredibly wealthy neighbour who has a favour to ask.

It is here that the novel is meant to become a ‘loving homage to The Great Gatsby’. For a writer with a habit of favouring detached male observers, it was only a matter of time before Murakami invoked Nick Carraway. But whilst the realism of Killing Commendatore remains intact for over a hundred pages, when it gets weird it gets really weird: Ideas, Metaphors, a pit in the garden, a Nazi assassination attempt in Vienna, an underworld, a faceless man, and at least one tentacle. That may sound appealing, but it all goes disastrously wrong. Part I, ‘The Idea Made Visible’, begins well, and does nudge towards the interrogation of a number of interesting themes: memory, loss, loneliness, desire, perspective, change, and art itself. But then, like the protagonist’s marriage, it all ends rather feebly. The entire second part, ‘The Shifting Metaphor’, is plainly bad: particularly awful is from chapter 50-onwards, where the pacing and suspense that Murakami had managed perfectly well in the first two hundred pages gives way to a completely deflated and predictable corpse of a novel.

The narrator aptly sums-up the Murakami reading experience when he says, ‘One absurdity after another sauntered through my mind as I pushed down the endless slope.’ The only tangible achievement of Killing Commendatore is managing to be inconsistent and predictable simultaneously. But worse still is a graphic and gratuitous rape fantasy in the last third of the book that contributes nothing to the plot or characterisation. It is simply there for the sake of it and is told so inappropriately that it goes against everything we previously thought of the protagonist. It ruins what had already become a bad book. How Murakami’s editors or his translators let this scene slide is testament perhaps to how established authors can get away with anything. We can forgive incoherence and uncertainty, but bad writing is just bad writing.

Killing Commendatore could have been a great novel; a compelling story of loss and memory, loneliness and desire, change and permanence. But it isn’t.

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, Harvill Secker, 704pp, £20 

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