‘A generation barred from self-fulfilment by its own materialism’ – This Bleeding City by Alex Preston

 This Bleeding City follows the coming of age of Charlie Wales, desperate to ‘make it’ in the city and escape from the penny pinching mentality of his parents. After studying at Edinburgh he has been seduced by the sudden access to wealthy friends and a new lifestyle.

It’s a lifestyle of what would be classified as excess by anyone not part of it. Life is complex and exotic, a whirl of spreadsheets, strip clubs and champagne bars. The job is ‘violently’ competitive. The financial crisis hits; the stress level increases. Meanwhile his friends go through their own individual struggles. Charlie is supposed to be a hapless outsider, searching for authenticity in a corrupted world. I think we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, although I spent more time wanting to shake him for his weakness, his nearly endless ability to go with the flow, his complete dislocation from real life as most people experience it. Inevitably the pull of materialism is too strong; Charlie’s attempts to check out of the City leave only a trail of emotional destruction in his wake.

Charlie and his friends represent, if not a generation, then at least a certain subset of today’s twenty and thirty somethings. The post-university pilgrimage to the Big Smoke, the friends who go a bit off-track, the ubiquitous atmosphere of consumerism… all will be insistently familiar if you’ve lived it yourself, and faintly horrifying if you haven’t. Whilst This Bleeding City doesn’t try to give away any secrets as to the cause of the financial crisis, it does provide some insight into how come the perpetrators don’t feel more responsibility.

Preston turns out to be a compelling storyteller: I was hooked right from the prologue and the pace kept up throughout. He seems to get into his stride as This Bleeding City progresses. Early on the imagery is self-conscious at times, descriptions occasionally bordering on over-dramatic with the heady intensity of the early twenties who are just discovering the ‘real world’. But as Charlie grows up, so does the narrative, building up to a dismal but thoroughly appropriate finale.

Any Cop?: If you’ve got even the tiniest chip on your shoulder you’ll probably hate it, or at least you’ll hate Charlie. But This Bleeding City is spot-on in its characterisation of a generation barred from self-fulfilment by its own materialism, as well as being an addictive read. It might not be the most nutritious book I’ve consumed this year, but it’s definitely the most engaging.

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