- Money, Speculation and Finance in Contemporary British Fiction
Nicky Marsh’s book offers close analyses of a number of contemporary novels with respect to their engagement with metaphors and images drawn from the worlds of corporate finance and government fiscal policy. It also records major changes in the way money has been understood both economically and culturally. In particular, she identifies the development of new ways of thinking about economics from the reliance on the gold standard as an indicator of fiscal value in the immediate postwar period, through Thatcherism and monetarism in the 1980s, to new ways (hyper and virtual) of thinking about money brought on by globalization in the 1990s and 2000s. Marsh’s main argument, which she convincingly pursues throughout the book, is that these changes in the cultural understanding and representation of money find an imaginative dramatization in the fiction of the period, allowing novelists to develop conceits and metaphors that connect money to a range of other concerns such as gender relations, representations of the city (both the financial district in London and urban spaces generally), and social and political critique. As she argues in the introduction, “fiction is an important site for disrupting the ideological naturalization of conventional economics that has successfully diminished the political analysis of the money economy in much cultural discourse” (8).
After a shortish introduction, the book is organized into five chapters that take a broadly historical framework covering (mostly) the period after the Second World War. There is a very brief discussion of H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay, but this is mainly to establish an early twentieth-century metaphorics of money from which the postwar texts diverge in differing ways. Each of the five chapters examines a separate aspect of the financial world alongside close readings of selected novels.
Chapter One looks at the way money becomes a driving force in the postwar thriller, revealing a combination of the seductive allures of wealth, with a critique of the form of consumer capitalism that was emerging in the 1950s. There is an excellent reading of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger that identifies Bond’s conservative response to the cultural and social shifts taking place in postwar Britain. Fleming’s text is convincingly read as a dramatization of the cultural anxieties produced in Britain by the new world order after 1945, so that Bond emerges as a figure that “not only provides the necessary corrective to America’s economic and military power but also rehabilitates the authority of Britain’s professional class in the face of the threats posed to it by both international communism and the domestic working class” (22).
The next two chapters concentrate on fictional representations of 1980s economics. There is a fascinating discussion of Thatcher’s money-rhetoric in the introduction to Chapter Three, whereby the contradictions between Thatcher’s naïve attempt to familiarize the general public with the market economy (by turning Britain into a nation of shareholders) and her political need to mystify the economic processes allowed her to be presented as a figure who could bravely negotiate the financial world on the behalf of the electorate. Marsh reads a number of 1980s (and 1980s-set) novels in these two chapters, including insightful discussion of Margaret Drabble’s The Radiant Way (1987), Fay Weldon’s Darcy’s Utopia (1990), and Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! (1994). Coe’s novel, in particular, receives a perceptive analysis; Marsh is sensitive to the way in which Coe balances the personal, sexual, and psychological crises of the main character in the novel with a critique of Thatcherism, thereby identifying the power of Coe’s satire. As Marsh writes, “[t]he novel’s recurring concern with the dynamic between knowing and seeing provides it with a more sophisticated vocabulary for representing the systematic transference [End Page 649] of democratic political power to private money that took place in the decade” (82). The reading of Martin Amis’s fiction is less convincing. It is true, as Marsh argues, that Amis combines the...