“Reality is a fiction with an unlimited budget.”
Hernan Diaz ~ Trust
Even through the roar and effervescence of the 1920s, everyone in New York has heard of Benjamin and Helen Rask. He is a legendary Wall Street tycoon; she is the brilliant daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they have risen to the very top of a world of seemingly endless wealth. But the secrets around their affluence and grandeur incites gossip. Rumours about Benjamin’s financial manoeuvres and Helen’s reclusiveness start to spread – all as a decade of excess and speculation draws to an end. At what cost have they acquired their immense fortune?
This is the mystery at the centre of a successful 1938 novel entitled Bonds, which all of New York seems to have read. But it isn’t the only version…
Before reading this, I would recommend having a prior knowledge of the structure. I went in almost blind and regret it a little bit, because I might have warmed to it more quickly had I realised it was more than just a book within a book (and is actually a book within a book within a book…). However, halfway through Part II it all clicked into place and I loved it.
This book was completely different from what I was expecting; there is some analysis of the political and economical situation at the time, but ultimately it is a heartfelt tale about people and how their lives can be affected by the smallest misunderstanding. It is also about gossip, stereotypes and power, with hints of love, pride and ambition.
I warmed to Helen immediately and was saddened by her demise; her relationship with Benjamin seemed almost idyllic and the way in which they both carved out their own lives was commendable.
When I then read Part II – notes on the ‘truth’ from Andrew – he came across less sympathetically and the relationship I had read about started to crumble…
Parts I and III were the strongest for me. Hearing the story about the biographer was fascinating and gave a really good insight into what it meant to be a woman working on Wall Street. Part IV let the book down somewhat. I appreciate why it was in there – to ensure that we heard Mildred’s side of the story – but it might have been better placed as Part III, so we ended on a stronger note, with the biographer’s memoir. Mildred’s diaries are poignant and sad, but very repetitive and drag on a little, whereas the rest of the book had me mesmerised.
The synopsis may make the book sound complicated, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s well written and Diaz does a very good job of telling each character’s story in a different tone, so it was easy to keep all stories separate.
A fascinating piece of metafiction that looks at an America from almost 100 years ago and asks us to consider how much you can trust the word of another, both in reality and in literature.
Thanks to Picador and Book Break for my finished copy. opinions my own.