Monday, July 23, 2012

book review: On the Floor by Aifric Campbell

The backstory: On the Floor was on the 2012 Orange Prize longlist.

The basics: (from the publisher) "In the City, everything has a price. What's yours? At the age of twenty-eight, Dubliner Geri Molloy has put her troubled past behind her to become a major player at Steiner's investment bank in London, earning £850k a year doing business with a reclusive hedge fund manager in Hong Kong who, in return for his patronage, likes to ask her about Kant and watch while she eats exotic Asian delicacies. For five years Geri has had it all, but in the months leading up to the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991, her life starts to unravel. Abandoned by her corporate financier boyfriend, in the grip of a debilitating insomnia, and drinking far too much, Geri becomes entangled in a hostile takeover involving her boss, her client and her ex. With her career on the line as a consequence, and no one to turn to, she is close to losing it, in every sense. Taut and fast-paced, On the Floor is about making money and taking risks; it's about getting away with it, and what happens when you're no longer one step ahead; ultimately, though, it's a reminder to never, ever underestimate the personal cost of success."

My thoughts: On the Floor has a fascinating premise: it's set against the Gulf War of 1991 and focuses on a career I know little about: investment banking. I was immediately drawn to Geri as a character. She lives large, plays hard, and works hard. It's clear she can't keep up the pace, but I was looking forward to the journey. While there was much I liked in this novel, the pacing was uneven. Some parts were filled with suspense, while others were dragged down by detail.

I particularly enjoyed Geri's observations (and premonitions) regarding the Gulf War. Knowing both the end of that war and the coming second Gulf War, there were some chilling scenes. It's a slippery slope when the reader knows more about the coming events than the characters. In On the Floor, it mostly worked, but at times the premonitions began to feel heavy handed.

The verdict: A strong setting, intriguing characters and good writing gave this novel all of the elements of success, but together it never quite came together for me. Ultimately, I appreciated what Campbell was trying to tell with this complicated story and setting, but I think she lost focus in unnecessary details too often to truly succeed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 288 pages
Publication date: March 1, 2012 (in the UK--no word on a U.S. release)
Source: purchased

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  1. It sounds like this book wasn't balanced properly, and that it's suspense was hampered by the detail and premonitions. I do still think it sounds like an interesting story, and one that I would like to read at some point, but when I do, I will be bearing your impressions in mind. Very nice and forthright review. I enjoyed reading it, and even though you didn't love the book, your review was great.

    1. Thanks, Zibilee! I really liked parts of this novel, but the financial details were too much for me. Perhaps a reader more interested in trading wouldn't have found those parts dull!

  2. What an interesting plotline! Thank you for sharing this story with us.

    1. Thanks, Amused. It's good to see you back! It was an interesting plotline, and I'm glad the Orange Prize introduced me to it!


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