Martin Scorsese’s lavish epic of sharp suited fraud, debauchery and stocks has ruffled a few feathers ahead of the Oscars. Revelling in the moral vacuum of Jordan Belfour’s 80s, some critics have found the reality of Belfour’s swindling and his short jail term a bit too hard to swallow. Regardless of Belfour’s soft landing, the hair-raising throes of the stock market and the characters that feed it have been a fascination for writers both sides of the credit crunch. So, why not climb into the moral vacuum of money, women and the occasional murder of Belfour’s fictional counterparts?
Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfour
Straight from the horse’s mouth, Belfour’s memoir – and its sequel Catching the Wolf of Wall Street – focuses on his penny stock trading days. Packed with more drugs than Di Caprio could gurn over, Belfour delivers a brilliant page-turner that reads like fiction, but with the smirk of the real Wall Street survivor throughout.
The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe
An iconic portrait of 1980s New York, Belfour cites the novel as his main inspiration for his memoir. A wealthy bond salesman and his mistress get caught up on the wrong side of town and the consequences kick-start a searing portrait of class, race and social division in New York. Our bond salesman refers to himself as “Master of the Universe” in his quieter moments, and sweats through his wife’s socialite functions and police interrogations in his penthouse with equal comedy and bathos. Wolfe’s pacey dialogue and perfect observations elevate the stale dust of courtrooms and the frustrations of wealth to a literary delight.
American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
Taking the bloodlust and hedonism of Wall Street to its logical conclusion, young stockbroker Patrick Bateman indulges in designer labels and brutal murder in equal measure. With a swanky apartment and effusive love of Phil Collins, Bateman’s stomach churning depravity is a potent allegory for greed and consumption. Ellis has never managed to improve on his perfectly formed predator in a suit, and the lexis of exclusive restaurants, suits and 80s pop music that captured and butchered an era.
Capital, John Lanchester
And, then came the recession. Set in the late 2010s, London journalist Lanchester wrote the novel while researching the causes of the recession for his non-fiction title Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay. A London suburb becomes the stage for the impending credit crunch for characters, from a local polish builder to a Banksy-esque street artist making a fortune in Soho. At the heart of the novel is investment banker Roger, a character that frets over his bonus as one millions pounds a year won’t cover all the school fees and mortgages that keep his life style afloat. Amongst the often surreal hum of life in suburban London – from anti-terror charges to community meetings – the ticking explosion of the credit crunch blends the comedy of the chattering classes with the realities of the recession.
An Epistle to Bathurst, Alexander Pope
Now this one is going back a long way. Pope’s couplets on the South Sea Bubble in 1720, a crash on the British stock market that first put the country into debt, is an irresistibly shrewd view of money and corruption with zingers like:
“Blest paper-credit! last and best supply!
That lends Corruption lighter wings to fly!”
Few writers have both as much sarcasm and wisdom as Pope and, despite the sometimes tricky references he makes in his take-downs, this is a searing and brilliant portrait of the greed that fuelled the market crash, and each crash thereafter.