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Review: Fiction: On the Floor by Aifric Campbell

It's 5.17 on a Monday morning. Geri Molloy's legs are on the floor, her torso is on the sofa, and she's coming round from yet another bender. Minutes later, she's on the streets of London with her long-suffering dog, throwing up in a gutter.

On the Floor is set in the world of finance, a tale of a hotshot Irish trader who flies too close to the sun, and right from the start the book makes no effort to spare readers the gritty realities of her life.

Quite the opposite, it embraces the vulgarities, excesses and perversions of her world and flings them at us with glee.

Author Aifric Campbell has a PhD in critical and creative writing, but she came up through the foul-mouthed world of the trading floor where she worked for 10 years and is best known for being the first female MD of a trading team for Morgan Stanley in London.

That bio comes through loud and clear in her writing, and not always in a good way.

The book's style is a triumph of function over form, touched with an occasional bout of irrelevant indulgence. There is nothing beautiful about the writing, nothing to tempt the reader along, which is a bit surprising since her previous novels -- The Semantics of Murder and The Loss Adjustor -- won high praise from Joseph O'Connor and Nicholas Shakespeare, among others.

This one is all bang, bang, bang, with no thought for the impact on the readers' ears.

The other thing that seems to be ostensibly missing for at least most of the book is a plot. Geri makes it abundantly clear that she's lost her boyfriend, her ambition, her joie de vivre, and she simply doesn't care what happens to her life.

Against that backdrop, it's hard to see how the reader could feel anything but antipathy for a character that does her best not to be likeable.

Throughout the book we see her misleading clients, mistreating the less fortunate in her office, avoiding her struggling father, getting drunk, hitting the prescription pills, and generally making a disgrace of herself (and not even in a particularly entertaining way).

At the end of the book, we finally see why she got like this, and we feel a bit of empathy for her, and an interesting (albeit unbelievable) plot even surfaces -- but there's a very real danger that most readers won't make it that far.

The other thing that will deter the general reader is the amount of jargon that finds its way into the tome, and the scant effort made to explain what the hell is going on.

The finer points of finance aren't central to the plot (such as it is) but the lingo would still be irritating for those not familiar with it.

The main problem with this book, though, is that it's really hard to see what the selling point is. There've been other books out about life in high finance that have provided fascinating insights into the usually-secret world of modern financial wizardry.

But Campbell's story takes place in 1991 -- we're not seeing deep into the crevices of modern banking, we're seeing deep into the past.

We're getting a glimpse into a world now obsolete, a world where there was still lots of money to be made by shouting loudest and generally conning clients. Geri repeatedly warns that this world is coming to an end, that some day financial models will dictate the pace and render all that they do obsolete. What Campbell doesn't seem to realise is that the same argument is equally true for her book.

Laura Noonan is Banking Correspondent for the Irish Independent

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