Trust by Hernan Diaz

Money makes the world go around…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This is the story of a power couple in New York, in the years leading up to and following the Great Crash of 1929. He is Benjamin Rask, a financier and descendant of a long line of men who made their money through trade, first in goods and later on the money markets. Rask is fascinated by how the markets work, and has a natural intuition allied to his mathematical brain that enables him to know exactly when to buy or sell. His wealth grows until he is one of the most powerful movers in the economy. He is friendless by choice, anti-social and without hobbies. His work is his life. But in mid-life he begins to consider the matter of an heir to carry on the family line.

She is Helen Brevoort, sole daughter of a couple with an aristocratic heritage but no money. Her father tutors her idiosyncratically – she is brilliant at maths and is introduced to all the faddish philosophies of the day. She too is anti-social, but her mother has made it clear that her duty is to marry money…

Or is that really what the book is about?

This is a hard one to review because of the need not to reveal too much, so I shall keep it vague and short! The book is written in four sections, the first telling the story of Benjamin and Helen as a kind of joint biography, and that section stands on its own as a short novel in the vein of books by Edith Wharton or Henry James, examining the social structure and wealth aristocracy of early 20th century America. The other sections re-examine the same story from three different perspectives, each adding to and altering the reader’s understanding, so that in the end we are clearer about the ‘true’ lives of this couple, but also about the writing of the biography. It reminded me not a little of Citizen Kane – the same larger-than-life characters, the same sense of growing isolation as wealth and power become ends rather than means, the same arrogance and hubris.

It’s brilliantly done. In each section, Diaz creates a different narrative voice and style, and each is as believable as the others. Changes in perception are done subtly, so that for the most part ‘facts’ remain the same – it is the interpretation that alters. The examination extends beyond the lives of the Rasks, to look at the motivations and influences of the various narrators, so that there are stories within stories, gradually widening out to take us into different layers of society and see the tensions caused by the huge disparity between rich and poor. There is politics here, but not polemics – Diaz examines capitalism critically rather than with outright condemnation, and at the other end of the scale he looks at how communism and anarchism grew as a response to extreme inequality, without overtly suggesting that these philosophies are more likely to produce a better society.

Hernan Diaz

But strip the politics out, and also the history of the market gamblers who caused the Crash, and what is left is an intensely human story about character. Who are Helen and Benjamin really? What factors made them into the people they became? How can we ever be sure we know the truth about anyone, even when their fame means that every detail of their lives seems to be played out on the front pages of the newspapers? And in here too is a look at the status of women and how they are perceived, with competing pictures of Helen very much dependant on the stance of the people telling her story.

I found it fascinating and absorbing, well worthy of its longlisting for the Booker nomination, and I’m disappointed that it hasn’t been shortlisted. I hope I’ve said enough to whet your appetite, without spoiling the experience of reading it for yourself. Highly recommended!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Picador via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link

36 thoughts on “Trust by Hernan Diaz

    • Yes, I thought it might end up being repetitive but I thought he handled the different perspectives really well. And I did find it thought-provoking – it didn’t end at all in the way I was expecting.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This does sound absolutely fascinating, FictionFan. It’s a very clever way to explore the markets and the people who caused them to crash. At the same time, it sounds as though it also depicts the people who lived at the time and the forces that moved them. It sounds like an interesting look at the culture of the times, too. And I do like a book with multiple perspectives on the same story. I’m not surprised you were drawn in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Serendipity meant that I was reading it just as our crazed brief PM/Chancellor duo were in the midst of crashing the markets and plunging us into a financial crisis, so that was an added element of… fun! 😉 He handled the market side well – enough info to inform but not befuddle. A really interesting one!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t sure about it either, but it turned out much better than I thought it might. I thought he handled the four perspectives really well, without letting it become repetitive. If you do decide to go for it, I hope you enjoy it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I probably wouldn’t have considered this one … except for your glowing review! I’m intrigued to read the differences between sections and how the author handled such a plotline.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought the four perspectives might make it feel a bit repetitive, but I thought he handled them really well, with each narrator having something to add to the overall story, and having a story of their own too. Always enjoy a story with a political edge so long as the author isn’t banging a drum, and so long as it’s all about the characters in the end!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m surprised it didn’t make the Booker shortlist. It’s both interesting and well done. I thought the four perspectives might make it feel a bit repetitive, but he handled them really well so that each bit added to the story. A winner in my book!

      Liked by 1 person

    • When it’s done well it can be really effective. Sometimes it risks coming over as a bit repetitive, but I felt he avoided that by having each narrator have something extra to add to the overall story. Good stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An incredible review – the sort that makes me feel inadequate when it comes to blogging! I snapped this up on a 99p Kindle Daily Deal, as I’d read so much about it and the concept was fascinating. The talent required to make each part of the book work is huge. I’m definitely going to make a start on this soon – you’ve absolutely got my appetite whetted! Again, kudos to you for this review. 👏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thank you! But your reviews are great! I hope you enjoy this one – I loved the way each section made you reassess the central characters while learning more about the narrators too.

      Like

    • No, I think it was an original screenplay, co-written by Orson Welles and… erm… some other guy. 😉 But it’s based on the true-life character of William Randolph Hearst, I believe – a newspaper mogul in early 20th century America. I don’t love the movie, but it’s interesting…

      Liked by 1 person

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