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THE MARK AND THE VOID by Paul Murray Kirkus Star


by Paul Murray

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-86547-755-1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A darkly comic, lightly metafictional tale about a banker seeking love and a novelist seeking wealth amid the fallout from the financial boom and bust in Ireland.

Claude Martingale, a well-paid analyst in the Bank of Torabundo’s Dublin office, finds his routine upset when a man named Paul asks if he can trail Claude as research for his next novel. It isn’t long before Claude discovers the research actually entails casing his bank, one of several moneymaking schemes Paul undertakes. Still, the two men form a cautious friendship, and Paul tries to help shy Claude talk up the Greek waitress Ariadne, while Claude tries to prod Paul back to the writing he's fled since his first novel was panned. Murray (Skippy Dies, 2010, etc.), the real and well-reviewed novelist named Paul, offers his alter ego’s scams as humorous microcosm to the avaricious inventions still common in the financial world two years after Lehman Brothers collapsed. Other parallels abound. Just as fictional Paul has a delightfully profane Russian sidekick, the bank’s hedge fund chief relies on a Russian math whiz and his “providential antinomies” that “monetize failure.” Ariadne has a rant on Greece’s financial chaos as preview for where Ireland is headed. A writer quits that trade to become an artist who turns his written pages into art within a frame. So Murray creates the novel his other Paul is meant to produce at the urging of a guilt-ridden banker and another character who asks, “when are our writers going to address the banking crisis?” The speaker is the powerful critic who slammed fictional Paul’s debut.

Murray manages the trick of being thoughtful and entertaining. His creative energy sends the book in many directions, making it a little loose and lumpy, but the same may be said of Dickens, with whom real Paul also shares wit, sympathy, and a purposeful sense of mischief.