SUMMARY – The 10-second review
Spoiled South Dublin brat gone bad – Fraud, drugs, rehab – Well written – Finding empathy for terrible people.
White City is a sometimes funny and at times heartrending story of a young man struggling to redeem himself after his life is destroyed by his family, his friends and his own deeply flawed decisions.
Ben is the epitome of the spoiled rich kid you’d love to hate. A child of a wealthy, South Dublin family, brought up with nothing but the best; the best house, the best school, the best vacations, the best clothes. Now he’s enrolled to do a PhD but with money flowing into his bank account every month, there’s no need to do anything but party.
‘South Dublin’ is more than a geographical area. In Ireland, it’s code for wealth and ostentation — for good schools, expensive homes, the ‘right’ kind of Dublin accent, golf, yachting and rugby clubs. (Ross O’Carroll Kelly’s book title says it all).
It’s all just fun and games, except it isn’t. Ben has grown up in an emotional vacuum with a work-obsessed father and an alcoholic mother, neither of whom seem to have any space in their lives for the son. His friends are drink and drug buddies. And then his father is arrested on a €600-million fraud charge and Ben’s money tap is switched off. We enter his life when he’s in rehab, looking back on the past, his family and the friends to whom he became a disposable pawn in a diabolical get-rich-quick scheme.
Anyone who would be even attracted to the scheme proposed by Ben’s former classmate is hardly deserving of much empathy. Eventually, we watch the whole thing go down the toilet. Ben is oblivious, stupefied by drugs and booze. It’s hard to watch.
The narrative is an interesting juxtaposition of Ben-then and Ben-now. The Ben who has been through rehab and gained important insights recounts the Ben who was flailing in a drug-hazed mess. It’s well done and it works. His whole life he has been surrounded by unscrupulous, profiteering frauds. Now he is struggling to see beyond the con and find out who he really is.
White City is not the first satire of its kind, exposing the dirt beneath the exterior gloss of wealth. Unlike many of those novels, however, this one succeeds in making the hero a likeable character, for all his weaknesses.
Note: I deliberately don’t use the word ‘privileged’ to describe Ben’s background. ‘Privilege’ is a term that is becoming increasingly politically loaded. It annoys me that a very useful word is being misappropriated. This book is just one of a zillion reminders that ‘privilege’ does not mean ‘if you’re rich, or come from a wealthy background, you de facto have a charmed life of unalloyed happiness’ (and by extension, no right to complain about anything, ever, so STFU).
My thanks to Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
White City is available from all major booksellers.
Follow David Stafford on Twitter
You might also like: Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons |David Stafford