Is it possible to enjoy and despise a novel at the same time? Bright, Precious Days convinced me that it is. I liked precisely nobody in this book; the premise is ludicrous and the romance is flat; it has all the hallmarks of a past-his-sell-by-date author trying to rehash elements from his greatest hit(s). Yet somehow I sped through it with relish. McInerney may never have replicated the success of Bright Lights, Big City, his era-defining tale of 1980s coke addiction. But although it is hard to argue with criticisms levelled at his recent work – that he is cravenly in thrall to the super-rich characters he purports to satirise, that he clings to a dated “literary bad boy” image – he does have an eye for the ridiculous and an infectious sense of fun.
Bright, Precious Days is the final instalment of a trilogy about a Manhattan power couple, Russell and Corrine Calloway, which began with Brightness Falls in 1992 and continued with the 2006 novel The Good Life, set in the time around the 9/11 attacks. Here we meet them again in the run-up to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, that heady period when the economy seemed to defy gravity. Corrine, who used to work as a stockbroker, has set up a charity distributing food to deprived areas of New York. Russell is struggling to keep his publishing business alive in a city that was once the “shining island of letters” but is now dominated by hedge-funders. They have two teenage children and infrequent sex – unbeknown to Russell, Corrine has long been carrying on with Luke McGavock, a handsome and handsomely rich banker- turned-philanthropist.