Thursday, 19 March 2009

Book Review: Starfishing by Nicola Monaghan

Starfishing is the story of Frankie Cavanagh, an ambitious, smart and pretty girl from Ilford (a working class district in the north east of Greater London) who manages to get away from her father and go to the City, as the square mile in east-central London where banks, insurance companies and stock brokers are crammed in, is called. Frankie’s dad wants her to marry a man who drives a white van and have kids. When an Ilford girl or an Essex girl (Frankie tells us that there is a difference between the two) goes to the City, it is usually to work as a secretary and find a husband. Instead Frankie gets a derivatives trader’s job.

Starfishing is also the story of a girl who craves for excitement and lives life to the fullest. Frankie drinks like a fish, does drugs of all kinds and has an affair with her married boss Tom Philips. Frankie doesn’t do ‘love’ however. Or does she?

Starfishing is a thriller since Frankie and Tom take all sorts of risks, ranging from doing a ‘runner’ after a meal in a restaurant to stealing liquor from a store. You keep wondering if Frankie and Tom will get ever caught since the risks they take keep getting more and more dangerous.

The year is 1997 and the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (“LIFFE”) still follows the open outcry system whereby trading is done in pits by traders wearing colourful jackets (which identify their employer). All the traders are men, very chauvinistic men and Frankie is sexually harassed almost every minute. Once in a while Frankie goes to the toilet and breaks down, but most of the time she holds her own and even gives back in equal measure. Granted that an open pit for derivatives trading in the City is likely to be one of the most chauvinistic places in London, it’s still difficult to believe how different and difficult things were for women until less than ten years ago. Monaghan, the author of this novel, used to be a trader in the City and I assume her description of such a harsh working environment is generally accurate.

Starfishing is the story of a bunch of hedonistic traders who live in an amoral world, where gambling is a way of life. Gambling goes on not only in the open pits during trading hours, but also after work in pubs and restaurants and elsewhere. The open pit traders at LIFFE ought to have known that with the advent of electronic exchanges, in particular the German exchange, the Deutsche Termin Boerse, their way of life is about to come to an end, but they don’t, so wrapped up they are in themselves and so staunch is their faith in the efficiency and superiority of the open outcry system.

The best part of Starfishing is the ending, which is rather unexpected but you’ll have to read this book to find out.

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