This book includes 25 short stories - perhaps more accurately called vignettes - starring international bankers, brokers, business executives, and others from the world of big business. All the stories are set in London, and many feature a fictional company called Bartons and its employees. All the stories end with some sort of twist.
In his introduction, Charters writes: “Please do not feel sorry for the characters who come to grief. Like gamblers in a casino, they know the risks and make their own decisions – and they do not complain when they win” (p. 7). I took this to mean that bad things would probably be happening to at least a few likeable characters. As it turned out, bad things happened to many characters in these stories. They lost their jobs, went broke, were left by their wives, failed a job interview. One even committed suicide. For the most part, I barely felt a twinge for any of them.
While there were a few main characters who were likeable, or who at least weren't jerks within the small number of pages they were given in the book, they were outnumbered by the unlikeable main characters. Those characters were corporate sharks (or, in at least one instance, wannabe corporate sharks) who cheerfully plowed through their colleagues to get to the top. They were philanderers who saw the women around them as either beddable, useful around the office or home, or not worth having having around. Quite a few of them drank at work, or after work, or the night before a big business deal. In other, longer works they could potentially have been multifaceted, sympathetic characters, but in The Insiders they were just jerks. Most of them weren't even interesting jerks.
What kept me reading was not the characters, but rather the situations they found themselves in and my desire to know what twist Chambers would throw at readers next. It also didn't hurt that each story was short and easy to get through.
Quite a few of the stories dealt with business situations: deals that went well or badly, team-building exercises, scrambles to get or keep jobs, etc. A few stories delved into the personal lives of some of the characters – in one rather funny instance, a supposed business situation was revealed to be a bit of bedroom roleplaying (somehow, I don't see that relationship lasting very long). For the most part the characters in this book were heterosexual men, but a very small number of stories did bring up homosexuality and/or feature women as more prominent characters.
Overall, this was an okay book. The characters tended to blend together, but the twists I knew each story would end with kept me reading. Possibly because of the existence of real-life people like Bernie Madoff, it didn't really bother me that so many of the characters were liars and jerks, and I actually kind of appreciated that things often didn't work out well for them.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Spice & Wolf (book series) by Isuna Hasekura; Spice & Wolf (anime TV series) - The pseudo-historical series takes place in something very much like Europe in the Middle Ages. The main character is a traveling merchant who partners up with a crafty wolf goddess who wants to go back to her homeland. Those who'd like something else featuring business deals and financial cleverness might want to try this. I've written about the first light novel volume and both seasons of the anime.
- Japan, Inc.: Introduction to Japanese Economics (manga) by Shotaro Ishinomori - Those who'd like to read more business drama might want to try this. I suppose you could call it edutainment - although it reads in part like fiction, it's based on a Japanese economics textbook.
- Liar's Poker (memoir) by Michael Lewis - I'm pretty sure calling this a memoir is correct, although I haven't read the book and could be wrong. Anyway, those who'd like another look at the corporate world might want to try this.
- Bombadiers: A Novel (book) by Po Bronson - Those who'd like more business-related fiction may want to give this satirical novel a try.
- At Bonus Time, No One Can Hear You Scream (book) by David Charters - In case you haven't already checked, I thought I'd mention that The Insiders is not the only book Charters has written. This is one of those other books.