Settle in for a little bit of everything.
White City introduces us to Ben, the only son of a rich South Dublin banker who at the start of the novel, we meet in rehab. After he is abruptly cut off from a comfortable and privileged life, following his father’s very public disgrace, Ben gets caught up in drugs and dead-end jobs. Until he runs into an old school friend who wants to cut him in on a scam: a shady property deal in the Balkans. The deal will make Ben rich and, suddenly it looks like he’s enroute back to his old life – rich once more. But we soon realise that not all is as it seems…
White City is a darkly comic read. I enjoyed the narrative style – Ben in rehab, talking to his doctor and reflecting on his life before and the decisions and actions that have led to his current situation. Requested to by the same doctor, he’s written down his life to date in a journal, and the doctor acts almost like a judge in Purgatory deciding on if Ben’s past actions leave him beyond forgiveness or if his soul is worth saving.
There is an obsession in Ben with a reliance on wealth and a view that money will save all of his problems. But even though the upper-middle class are his people, there is still almost a reluctance on his part to being viewed as part of that “gang” and yet he benefits from the wealth and he can’t seem to survive without it.
Power’s writing is concise and accurate – the description of the effects of drug-taking left me almost sweating myself! How he describes the confidence in people that comes with wealth, the lack of awareness. The line, “we inherited the compulsion to make speeches from our fathers”, is probably my favourite from the book.
There is also the examination of men and their internal struggle with being able to show their emotions, wrapped in with the relationships between fathers and sons, and mothers and sons. Ben has been trained since childhood that to show emotions is to almost show weakness. Following a family funeral, he is told as a child by his mother to not be seen crying: “It’s a question of taste”, she tells him.
I also love how Power uses a short scene or paragraph to tell you everything you need to know about a character. Ben, introducing the character of Tynan, describes an interaction with a homeless man and in those three sentences you learn everything you need to know about him.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, White City has a little bit of everything, and the last 100 pages are a rollercoaster with an almost espionage thriller element introduced. It’s a little bit of everything: a human story, character self-reflection, crime, suspense and mystery. Something for everyone.