What links the Investment Bank of Torabundo, www.myhotswaitress.com (yes, with an s, don’t ask), an art heist, a novel called For the Love of a Clown, a six-year-old boy with the unfortunate name of Remington Steele, a lonely French banker, a tiny Pacific island, and a pest control business run by an ex-KGB agent? Only one thing, really: Paul Murray’s madcap new novel, The Mark and the Void. It’s the first we’ve heard from the man since the wild Skippy Dies, and we’re pleased to announce his upcoming tour this fall. And to whet your whistle (and attempt an explanation), here’s the first few pages from the new novel in stores October 20th.
October 19 – Brookline, MA
279 Harvard St.
Brookline, MA 02446
October 21 – Brooklyn, NY
163 Court St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
October 22 – New York, NY
Glucksman Ireland House
New York University
1 Washington Mews
New York, NY 10003
October 24 – Washington, DC
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
October 25 – Los Angeles, CA
1818 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
In conversation with Matthew Specktor
Presented in partnership with the Los Angeles Review of Books
October 27 – Seattle, WA
Elliott Bay Book Company
1521 Tenth Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122
From the first pages of The Mark and the Void:
Idea for a novel: we have a banker rob his own bank. He’s working alone; at first, it’ll look like a classic inside job. This man, however, is not what you’d call an insider. He’s French, not Irish, and although initially he might look like a typical Parisian—black suit, expensive shoes, hair neat but worn slightly long—as the story unfolds and his past comes to light, we find out he never quite fitted in over there either. He didn’t grow up in a leafy suburb, didn’t attend a fancy grande école of the kind that bankers tend to come from; instead he spent his childhood in a run-down corner that the city prefers to disown, and his father’s something blue-collar—a welder maybe, a veteran of 1968, a tough nut.
The family doesn’t have much: the father’s job is precarious, they’re constantly resorting to moneylenders, bailiffs come to take the car away, all that. But the father’s ambitious for the boy; the father’s determined that he’ll have a better life. So the son beavers away in his third- rate school and makes it into a second-rate University, and after graduating at the top of his class, he’s offered a position in a prestigious French bank. It’s dull work, mostly filing and admin, but he’s diligent and quick and after a few months his manager takes note of him and recommends him for a start in the Research Department.
As a junior analyst, his official role is to dig up information on companies for the bank and its clients. In practice, he spends his time fixing paper jams, fetching coffees and listening politely while his boss describes his recent sexual adventures. When he gets to do his job, though, he finds that he likes it. More importantly, he’s good at it. He watches money flow through the market, learns the secret influences at work on it, begins to understand how a speech made by an obscure politician in, say, Guangzhou can send stock prices soaring, while a rumour about a change in the interest rate can spark a worldwide panic. He works early mornings, late nights, hour after hour in the cold glow of the screen, developing models, monitoring trades, figuring out the best way to persuade a client that he and all of his competitors have got the value of a stock completely wrong. One morning, he checks his bank balance and sees he’s got his first bonus: three times what his father would make in a year. That’s when he knows he’s made it.
But his father’s not happy. Instead, he looks at the trophies of his son’s success—the car, the suit, the unblemished hands—and despises them. It makes no sense—this is what he wanted for him!—yet the higher the boy climbs, the angrier the old man becomes. Everything the banker does to impress him has the opposite effect. He brings little gifts to the house, the father won’t accept them. He takes them for dinner, the old man won’t eat. They argue incessantly, the father berating the son for things he has nothing to do with—the neighborhood changing, the rents going up, the President being elected. He calls him a deserter, a traitor. He looks at his son and sees the emissary of a world that no longer needs him.
What can the banker do? Does the old man genuinely want him to give up his job? That would be crazy, right? Besides, he likes it. He likes being wealthy and respected. He likes having a nice apartment in Auteuil and a nice new Mercedes to take him there; he likes nice meals in Le Grand Véfour and nice clothes from the Rue de Sèvres; he likes the beautiful girls who all of a sudden like him, and the micro-romances they squeeze in between the market’s close on Friday evening and the Monday meeting at 7am. And he’s his father’s son: he thrives on opposition. But it gets so bad that they can’t even be in the same room together, and after his mother dies, he decides he’s had enough. A headhunter calls him about a position at Bank of Torabundo, a rising investment bank with a European HQ in Dublin. They want an analyst to advise clients on financial institutions, domestic and Continental. His language skills make him perfect for the job; they’re offering a significant increase on what he’s making in Paris.
He doesn’t think of it as flight, nor, exactly, as punishment. Yes, the old man is on his own now. But if they’re ever to have a functional relationship, he needs to learn something about compromise. So the son takes the job, cutting off all contact with home, beyond monthly payments for the live-in nurse. He plans to return to Paris at Christmas and review the situation, only with the global crash he finds he’s too busy to get away. Next Christmas, he thinks, without fail. But in April the nurse calls to tell him the old man has died in his sleep.
That’s how we find him as our story begins. It’s a couple of months later; he’s back in Dublin, passing his days in the service of money; passing most of his nights that way too. He has no friends, no pastimes, no life outside of the bank. He works so hard he doesn’t have a moment to himself, or, indeed, a self to have a moment. Someone observing might say he is depressed. He would say he wants only to be left alone. Certainly at this point he has no intention of committing a crime.
Here’s the thing, though: someone is observing him. For a number of weeks, someone’s been watching from a distance—a man, dressed all in black. He makes no effort to conceal himself, nor does he make any effort to communicate; he’s simply there, a supernumerary presence imprinted on the scene. He never comes closer, just watches, eyes trained on the banker as if through a gunsight; but any day now, the banker knows he’ll step out of the crowd and call him by his name; and at that moment everything will change.
That’s the set-up. What do you think? Would people buy it?
Paul Murray was born in 1975. He studied English literature at Trinity College in Dublin and creative writing at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was short-listed for the Whitbread Prize in 2003 and was nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award. His second novel, Skippy Dies, was short-listed for a 2010 Costa Book Award and long-listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was ranked number three in Time‘s ten best books of 2010.
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