The Mark and the Void – Paul Murray

Paul Murray is one of my very favourite Irish writers and I have been eagerly awaiting his third novel since I put down his last one. The Mark and the Void was published last month and it tackles the financial crisis in Dublin as seen through the eyes of a French investment analyst working in the IFSC.

Claude Martingale works at the Bank of Torabundo, which has emerged largely unscathed from the crash. His colleagues include Ish, a hippy Australian girl, and Jurgen, his humourless German boss. Claude’s life lacks real meaning and mostly consists of sixteen-hour days working with imaginary money, then going home to a soulless empty apartment, but his problems are solved with the arrival of Paul, an Irish novelist who wants to write about Claude believing him to be the perfect everyman.

However, as Paul soon realises, Claude’s life isn’t exactly chock full of plot-worthy drama, or in fact any drama at all, and so in order to write the book, Paul needs to create a plot for Claude. Hijinks obviously ensue, including a romantic obsession with a struggling waitress/painter, an art heist, a bank robbery, a start-up website called (with an ‘s’, and yes, click the link as it’s one of the best pieces of tie-in marketing I’ve seen recently), a suspicious Russian called Igor, and Paul’s complicated relationship with his Eastern European wife.

There are two main reasons that Murray is one of my favourite writers. The first is that he’s funny. Laugh out loud, hilariously funny. He’s a clever satirist, he’s irreverent, and he has a great ear for dialogue. The second is that he writes about modern Ireland. Skippy Dies, published in 2010, was set in the Celtic Tiger years, and The Mark and the Void depicts the post-Tiger recession. Far too many Irish novelists set their books in the past, and it’s a bugbear of mine. I want to read fiction that reflects my experience as an Irish woman today, and Murray’s books are full of characters and situations that seem familiar to me. Combined with his humour, his deft handling of multiple plot lines, and his original style, it’s no wonder I’m a fan of his work.

The financial crisis is fertile ground for satire. Watch Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, or Inside Job, or Too Big to Fail, and imagine them re-written as comedies. Sadly, it’s not a huge leap. I’m sure other writers will tackle the recession as subject matter but I don’t think any of them will manage to create the kind of black comedy caper that Murray has pulled off here. Bravo!


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