On The Floor by Aifric Campbell

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On The Floor by Aifric Campbell

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Set in the London and Hong Kong in the world of investment banking on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, this fast paced story centres a female working in an male dominated world and the dangers of letting other people control your life.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846688089

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Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012

Geri Molloy, the central character in Aifric Campbell's On The Floor, may be earning a six figure salary working at a London investment bank just prior to the outbreak of the 1991 invasion of Kuwait, but she's seriously messed up. Drinking heavily, sleeping lightly and mourning the end of a relationship, she may be a mathematical genius with a direct line to a mysterious Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager with whom she trades, but her life is increasingly being controlled by other people.

The City setting of the book potentially sets two challenges. Firstly the workings of the City can be complex and difficult to understand and writers have to steer a path between over-simplification and downright unnecessary confusion. As Campbell has one of her characters recognize, even those involved didn't necessarily understand what they were doing which leads to the second pitfall which is more difficult: the public's response to the City post financial crash. At the time that this book is set, we were still in the grip of the Wall Street glamour with Gordon Gekko's mantra of 'greed is good' and 'lunch is for wimps' ringing in our ears. Today, in a world where we are more likely to celebrate the 'sir-cumcision' of Fred Goodwin, the financial world is seen in a very different light. Both of these challenges are largely dispelled by the fact that Campbell herself spent 13 years working as an investment banker and so knows what she's talking about. Who better to tell it like it was?

Campbell doesn't over-glamorize the life, but neither does she jump on the band-wagon of slating the City. Focussing on a lost individual and making it a personal story, she uses the financial world to give pace to the story while revealing the difficulties of being a female in that macho world. Indeed, while Geri Malloy is clearly not Campbell, she shares some similarities - both are Irish, convent school raised and facing the challenges of a very male world. While the misogyny of the culture is perhaps not surprising, the often cruel banter and nicknames are still shocking as is the sacrifice of individuals to the greater good of the deal.

At first I thought what we were getting here was a metaphor of the City and personal relationships. Geri's world is falling apart as she pines for a her ex, and I was thinking that we were getting a story that greed and ambition, like early love is blind to what else is going on. But around two thirds of the way through when the deal that has driven the story to date reaches its conclusion and the story centres back onto Geri's own challenges.

The device used to get Geri to reveal more of her past was, I found, a little clunky and strained belief a bit, but as another layer of Geri's past and psyche is exposed it certainly makes her more of an interesting character. It's a shame that what it takes to get her to open up this past feels like such an uneven gear change as this doesn't fit well with what is an otherwise believable story, but once Campbell gets back to Geri, the story again eases into a new direction and is equally enthralling and well written. If the twist in the plot to the first part is a little too clearly signposted, the twists towards the end are beautifully disguised and pleasingly jaw dropping.

Ultimately it's not so much a story about life in the City. It's more a personal struggle about who you can trust and the importance of retaining control of your own life and it just happens to be set in the financial world where these issues are pertinent. It's fast paced as Geri's once comfortable world comes crashing down around her. If it's possible to have a coming of age story for a 28 year old protagonist, then that's what this is.

Our thanks to the kind people at Serpent's Tail for sending us this book.

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy the rather excellent Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett.

Buy On The Floor by Aifric Campbell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy On The Floor by Aifric Campbell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy On The Floor by Aifric Campbell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy On The Floor by Aifric Campbell at Amazon.com.


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