In the Dublin office of a multinational investment bank sits an analyst named Claude. Lured to Ireland from his native Francfe by the chance to make vast sums of money and put some distance between himself and his judgmental father, Claude doesn’t have much of a life outside the bank. He has no friends to speak of, unsatisfying relationships, and no hobbies.
That all changes due to a chance encounter with an author named Paul (yes, the author of the book is also named Paul). Paul has been observing Claude for some time and, to Claude’s bewilderment, believes that he would be a great model for the main character in his new book. So Paul starts shadowing Claude at work, interviewing the other bankers, and even measuring the walls to get more material for his book.
Thankfully, Murray does not draw out the suspense. Paul is clearly planning to rob the bank and Claude figures himself figures this out only a little while after even the most credulous readers will. (The premise is made funnier by Paul’s reaction to finding out that there is no money at the bank to rob.) From there the book travels a path that many people will not care for. Claude finds himself fascinated with Paul, getting involved in his personal life, trying to help him actually write a book for the first time in seven years. Claude’s principal motivation is a budding romance with a Greek waitress named Ariadne. He’s convinced himself that he needs a novelist to write the story of how to win her love.
Paul is an occasionally infuriating character, paralyzed with writer’s block since the failure of his debut he has convinced himself that literature is no longer a needed or wanted thing. He has become obsessed with money and how to get it without working too hard. His main project is an Orwellian database of local waitresses to make it easier for customers to flirt with them.
Too often Paul and Claude act too stupidly for the reader to invest in them. Paul’s schemes are too outlandish and Claude’s participation defies belief. However, The Mark and the Void is salvaged by its sharp satire of the financial world.
Claude’s bank, the fictional Bank of Turabundo, survived the fiscal crisis through prudent, risk-averse behavior, so of course the first thing they do is fire their CEO so they can leverage their success by making more risky trades. Soon they’re taking advice from a reclusive Russian mathematician, acting “counter-intuitively” and trying to monetize losing money.
It’s a little zany, but it will probably make you glad you didn’t go into banking.