Kevin Power’s outstanding second novel, White City, opens with the narrator, Ben, in a drug rehabilitation facility, reliving the experiences that have brought him there. At the start of these reminiscences, Ben is living with his parents, drifting through a PhD on Joyce and toying with writing a novel, when his father – a successful and respected Dublin financier – is arrested, accused of stealing €600 million from his own bank. Cut off from his supply of money, Ben spirals into drug addiction, all the while maintaining a hectic relationship with Clio, an unsuccessful actress who is fond of self-dramatisation. Ditching academia, he ends up in a horrific job at a call centre, ‘a twilit world of radically lowered expectations’, before a chance encounter with an old school contemporary, James Mullens.
Mullens is making big, if mysterious moves in the financial world. His life is a ‘standing reproach’ to Ben’s: he actually makes money, rather than simply dreaming of becoming an artist; he announces that his girlfriend is a radiologist ‘in the same offhand way that he might tell you he