The Financial Times
A credible chapter in a Wall Street life Review
by Sam Jones Published: June 23 2010 20:17 | Last updated: June 23 2010 20:17
Diary of a Very Bad Year Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager By ‘HFM’ and Keith Gessen Harper Perennial, $14.99
Sir Howard Davies once lamented the paucity of finance fiction. “Most of our novelists are more preoccupied with life after working hours and below the waist,” said the former head of the Financial Services Authority, who was then chairman of the judging of 2007’s Man Booker prize for fiction. “That is understandable, up to a point – even investment bankers make time for affairs, I am told – but limiting,” he continued. For the literati, it seemed, finance was dull, if not gauche: what went on in the City of London and Wall Street during daylight hours was both unintelligible and uninteresting. A few weeks after those comments, however, the US investment bank Bear Stearns was forced to take huge writedowns as two hedge funds it was running imploded; Northern Rock, one of the UK’s biggest mortgage banks collapsed; and there was a run on the world’s banks. Suddenly, finance became fascinating to a much wider group of people. Although it is not fiction, Diary of a Very Bad Year is, in its own way, an attempt to bridge the gulf between the literary and financial worlds. The conceit is straightforward enough: the book is a series of transcribed interviews between an unnamed, highly articulate hedge fund manager based in Manhattan and Keith Gessen, the editor of n+1, a voguish literary magazine in New York. It is eminently readable. The format, which is simple and clear, works well as astructure on which to display the unfolding market crisis. Each new interview – which was conducted in real time over the course of 2007 and 2008 – conveys a redoubled sense of urgency. Although the book is thick with financial jargon from the outset, that just adds to its credibility. Too often, a lot of financial crisis writing spends too much time explaining market mechanics in a way that spreads confusion more than clarity. The exercise is carried off by the personality and charisma of the anonymous hedge fund interviewee, “HFM”. But while he is never hectoring, and always engaging, he is nevertheless just one fallible individual, with one fallible viewpoint, who is cast, sometimes fawningly, in the role of market oracle.