White City by Kevin Power review – in the steps of Martin Amis

John Self
·2 min read

The Irish author Kevin Power took time to follow up his 2008 debut, Bad Day in Blackrock, and his new novel, while lighter in tone, lifts up similar rocks to shine its beam on what lies beneath. Both are interested in the privilege of what F Scott Fitzgerald called “careless people”, and the messes they leave for others to clean up.

White City synthesises familiar forms into a whole: the rogue’s confession, the young man finding his way, the post-Celtic Tiger satire on puffed-up, self-perpetuating bullshit businesses. Our guide is 27-year-old Ben, son of a disgraced Dublin banker, languishing in rehab and writing an account of his wrong turns as therapy. He’s half-bookish, half-lazy, really just wants to write his terrible-sounding novel (“Decay: A Report”), and only gets a job when his father is charged with embezzling €600m from his bank and the money tap is turned off.

Ben encounters an old schoolfriend, Mullens, who seduces him into joining a dodgy property deal in Serbia via the promise of a few million euro and lashings of meaningless banter (“Shake it handy, and if you can’t shake it handy, shake it hard”). This leads to a certain amount of capering with a bunch of Serbs who are mostly portrayed as sinister: but the Irish characters are mostly stupid or corrupt, so there’s equality of insult.

As you might expect from an author who teaches creative writing, White City is steeped in literary references: the rehab clinic is St Augustine’s, and we open with a riff on Dostoevsky. But almost all of White City reads as a homage to Martin Amis’s Money, complete with stylistic tics (“Confidence is a confidence trick. Confidence is a confidence man, and we are all his dupes”), a plot that turns on the narrator signing documents he doesn’t understand, and even a postscript in italics.

Fortunately the book works its way free of this demanding model, and Power shows his own capacity for comic timing and pithy aperçus: “Having lots of money,” writes Ben, “is like being one of those kids who are born without nerve endings and, feeling no pain, hurl themselves recklessly against the world, relying on other people to tell them when they’re damaged.” He even makes us care for his narrator in the end, which is more than Amis ever did.

White City by Kevin Power is published by Scribner (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.