Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Billionaires' Banquet by Ron Butlin

review by Maryom


It's 1985, the middle of the Thatcher era, and in Edinburgh three unemployed ex-students - Hume (philosophy PhD), "St" Francis (dropped out of training for priesthood)  and the Cat (awaiting results of her Pure Maths degree) are living amicably enough in their cheap, down at heel fourth floor flat, drifting along with no clear plans for their future but with the hope that something with turn up one day - even when the Cat disappears mysteriously in the middle of a party their lives continue with barely a flicker of concern. But change is coming from outside - even on Edinburgh's streets you can see homeless people sleeping rough, and Hume's new girlfriend DD isn't happy with his attitude to life, so delivers an ultimatum; basically, get a job or I'm off!
With this threat hanging over him, Hume decides to ditch his theoretical philosophy in favour of something more money-making, dragging St Francis along with him into a scheme providing butlers for up-market gatherings.  Hume is on his way to making loadsamoney ...
Their story is picked up twenty years later, as Edinburgh is occupied by anti-G8 protesters and London shaken by bombs, and Hume hosts a "Billionaires' Banquet" at which the winners of a lottery will be waited on hand and foot, and the losers doled out rice and water ...

Billionaires' Banquet is a rags to riches story, invoking the heady get-rich-quick schemes of the Thatcher era, and the human cost underlying them. Hume's business is typical for the times, conjured up from nothing more than a few props, hot air and wishful thinking, but it caters to clients' feelings of self-importance and Edinburgh falls for it. It isn't without its downside though - for both the people Hume employs and his family.
It's very much a novel of Edinburgh too, of the changes made to it by time and economics, as one area rises in status while another declines, and, something I always love, streets and parks are named so you can follow the characters' movements in your mind or on a map.

The story is insightful, funny, scathing, and farcical by turns but I think you need a liking for dark satire to really appreciate it, and possibly a re-read to catch all the nuances. As such, I think it may not be an instantly appealing book but a slow-burner that simmers at the back of your mind for longer.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing

Genre - Adult fiction

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