Some cities are more real than others but none is so unreal as Dubai: a mirage of glass and steel shimmering above the desert; a city built on sand, perhaps in more ways than one. It is here that Joseph O’Neill dumps the narrator of his impressive new novel (he remains nameless, though we are told that his given name, which begins with an X, is so embarrassing that he keeps it secret). When, in New York, he runs into Eddie Batros, a wealthy college pal who, after a night on the town, offers him a job as a trustee of the Batros family’s investments, he snaps at the opportunity to leave behind a grinding job at a corporate law firm and a defunctive relationship with a colleague.
In Dubai, he lives a life of exquisite, air-conditioned, chrome and marble sterility: he goes diving, has pedicures and, having abjured further emotional entanglements, visits prostitutes. His work for the Batros family may not be arduous but it is fairly impenetrable, and there are ominous signs that their shuffling of