The career and erotic adventures of an impertinent young Londoner who might as well be Bridget Jones’s evil twin brother.
Structured as a diary, Hollingshead’s fizzy first novel recounts a year in the callow life of (outrageously overpaid) investment bank wunderkind Jack Lancaster, after he has suffered the slings and arrows of his girlfriend Lucy’s maddening mood swings and moved on to pastures new, and increased frustrations. “My job stinks, my girlfriend hates me and I’m a pessimistic, ungrateful sod,” Jack confides to his unemployable friend, Flatmate Fred (a nicely sketched character who rather resembles the saturnine best buddy Bill Murray played in the film Tootsie). Jack’s “soulless, humorless” boss, Mr. Cox, harasses and annoys him, gorgeous coworker Leila stirs him to unprecedented heights of sexual fantasy and drunken pranks undertaken with male friends take the edge off Jack’s unhappiness—until (almost two-thirds into the novel) sardonic noodling gives way to something actually resembling a plot. Lucy’s pregnancy complicates his life in unexpected ways. Finally managing to detach himself from the job he despises, Jack embarks on a therapeutic South American trip (which, true to this novel’s skimpy narrative content, is described only in impudent e-mail messages sent back to fellow Londoners). Then a grievous personal loss awakens the party boy to the facts of his mortality and his shallowness (“I am an unworthy piece of inconsequential matter”), and he becomes, God help us, a better man. Leila proves not entirely unattainable, and the novel ends on a surprisingly happy New Year’s Eve. The change of heart is totally, fatally unconvincing. At his worst (and hence best), Jack is an opinionated snot with a ready wit. Hearing him fulminate constitutes the only good reason for staying the course of this feisty, funny, but really rather unsatisfying story.
Hollingshead has the chops, but doesn’t seem to have much of a repertoire. Maybe next time.