Books and Arts; Book Review;New fiction；Celebration of the vanities
The Privileges. By Jonathan Dee.
AT THE best of times, the self-made rich are usually held up in fiction as shallow, contemptible and undeserving of sympathy even when their wealth leads to misery and ends in ruin. And these are certainly not the best of times. Yet Jonathan Dee has courageously stuck to his guns in writing a novel about the marriage of a gilded couple of ambitious chancers who not only amass great wealth from humble beginnings, but who are neither damaged nor made wretched by their success.
The story of Adam and Cynthia Morey's life together begins with a bravura description of their wedding in Pittsburgh. Unusually young to get married, it quickly becomes clear that handsomer, smarter and more self-confident than everyone else around them, they are made for one another and already destined to be among life's winners. Adam moves smoothly from investment banking to a small but respected New York private equity firm where he rapidly becomes its capricious founder's protégé, heir apparent and the recipient of ever more inflated bonuses. Meanwhile, Cynthia devotes herself to raising their two young children and encouraging Adam to get on with acquiring the means to give them both the privileged lifestyle and social status she feels is their due.
When Adam decides to push things along with a little insider trading, you expect this will be the couple's undoing. But Mr Dee studiously avoids such easy clichés. He presents us with more a celebration of the vanities than a bonfire. Adam regards his risk-taking as noble. When he eventually tells Cynthia how they have become so spectacularly rich so quickly she tells him: “You are a man Adam. You are a man amongst men.”
In many ways, “The Privileges” is an oddity. Chapters often leap ahead by several years without any explanation of what has happened other than hints of the Moreys untroubled progress, for example when it emerges that the family now has a private jet and that staff are employed to help write cheques for the philanthropic causes Cynthia supports. At the end, doubts are raised about the effects of tremendous wealth on the couple's two grown-up children. But otherwise, it is left to the reader's imagination to wonder what impact (if any) the impending financial crash will have on the couple. Lucidly written and with a pitch-perfect ear both for contemporary mores and dialogue, “The Privileges” is entertaining—and morally ambiguous.