Saturday, September 01, 2018

19. Takeover Bid by Sarah Gainham

This was a decent, respectable novel that disappointed me because it didn't live up to the promise of its more suggestively sordid cover.  It's not totally inaccurate as the basic plot involves a seductive, manipulative woman who sleeps her way into the bed of a powerful business leader.  However, she is not counter-culture at all and ultimately the story is about the business leader and his deteriorating psychology, rather than her otherness destroying the establishment.

I did a bit of reading on Sarah Gainham who had an interesting and succesful career as a journalist in post-war Vienna and then as a novelist with Night Falls on the City being her huge hit.  Her personal life was fairly rock and roll and sounds a lot like the girl in the novel (who loses agency but gains in sympathy as the book goes on).

The story is told from the point of view of the head of the Brussels office of a major American company trying to impose its machinery patents on the European market.  This waif comes in as a junior typist (and the description of her look in the first few pages is amazingly well-written; read them below) and quickly seduces him right in the office.  While he struggles with his guilt, desire and logistical complications (he is happily married), she moves on to the big boss, who is coming to town following rumours of erratic behaviours.  Turns out this once all-powerful leader of men has fallen into a spiral of booze and pills.  He is no match for the seductress.

The industrial politics machinations and the class anxieties around them that follow were quite entertaining for me.  However, the book also veered more and more into bad psychological analysis of the chief and a poorly illustrated conflict between the protagonist's view and that of the other business leaders and doctors on what to do with him.  It's unclear ultimately what is wrong with the chief as the author tries to add meaning to his addictive behaviours, meaning that falls short because we don't really know the character from before and because there is a ton of 60s psycho-babble nonsense.  And the ending is just kind of a cop-out. 

Here are the opening lines of the book:

She was a thin, narrow girl who stuck her feet and legs out at odd angles from her skimpy, washed out, straight dress. This was very much in the style that soon became fashionable and it was, as I only afterwards realized, very much part of her talent that she incorporated this by no mean unimportant part of the Zeitgeist-that is, the appearance of women--before it was quit obvious as a trend.  The thing was to be emaciatedly thin, flat, exiguous in outline, untidy.  In expression vacant, lost and melancholy, like a small girl dressed up in her brother's clothes which she has a little outgrown, making passes at her uncles without knowing-- but very much wanting to find out--what in fact she is doing.

That's good stuff! 

No comments: