Lanchester casts novelist's eye over credit crisis

Wed Jan 27, 2010 6:34am EST
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By Quentin Webb

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Novelist John Lanchester says the subprime mortgages, collateralized debt obligations, and complex mathematics at the heart of the financial crisis represent the most gripping story he's ever stumbled upon.

Lanchester has turned that fascination -- coupled with a kind of astonished anger -- into a lucid, conversational account of the crisis designed for non-financial types and helpfully leavened with jokes, swearing and interesting asides.

The 47-year old writer is the son of a Hong Kong banker but "I.O.U.," or "Whoops!" to give its British title, is his first book about money, after three novels and a family memoir.

Journalists, economists, politicians, cartoonists and others have already published dozens, if not hundreds, of books on the crisis.

However, Lanchester, also a food critic and book reviewer, may have a wider frame of reference than some competitors.

For example, he says banking enjoyed a "modernist" period of innovation that started in the 1970s. That makes the crisis, with its complex, hard-to-value instruments, the finance world's equivalent of deconstruction, the postmodern cultural theory that calls conventional ideas about meaning into question.

"There's a classical period of financial instruments, a modernist one, and then this bizarre deconstructionist one that we're living through at the moment," he said.

"TELL ME, PROFESSOR"   Continued...

<p>British author John Lanchester poses with his book before the Whitbread 1996 Book Award Jannuary 21, 1997. REUTERS/Chris Helgren</p>