All in all, that is not a prescription for my kind of read. But my interest was piqued by a very enthusiastic review from Guy Savage (“insanely entertaining” and “one of my reads of the year”) and Guy knows his noir. And an equally positive assessment from my fellow Shadow Giller judge Kimbofo at Reading Matters (“probably the most disturbing novel I have read all year”) convinced me that it was time for a journey outside my reading comfort zone. Get Me Out Of Here won’t be on my top 10 list at year end but the excursion was well worth the effort.
Sutton introduces Matt the upscale consumer first and that seems an appropriate place to start. Our anti-hero is in a David Clulow optometry shop at Canary Wharf, trying for the third time to get back the £500 he paid for a pair of Lindberg glasses. His excuse is that he does a lot of travelling for his work (Kabul, Baghdad, Pyongyang, he says) and needs a reliable, tough pair and these have now “broken” three times — it is pretty obvious that the “breaking” hasn’t come from the design flaw he says is responsible. The sales assistant (“pretty — darkish, long, straight hair tied back, with a good figure, neatly tucked into a rather demure, patterned blouse and tight black trousers”) is again offering only an exchange and no cash-back option.
As she walked back over to the phone, I continued to search the fiddly, hopelessly fragile display racks for a pair that might do instead. I picked up frames by Oliver Peoples, Alain Mikli, Prada, Tom Ford, Philippe Starck — I hated Philippe Starck, out of principle, anyone who tried that hard to make a statement — Giorgio Armani, and Paul Smith. Oh dear, what’d happened to poor old Paul Smith of late — too successful? Resting on his laurels? Simply relying on past performance? Didn’t I know how that scenario could develop.
Matt’s fascination with upscale fashion (and his inability to actually pay for it) is the “fun” part of this novel. The reader is treated to excursions to the Prada shop on Bond Street where he has bought a “puff” jacket at a half-price sale — and is again frustrated when his attempts to get cash back later are rebuffed. And there is an entertaining short dissertation on the values of John Smedley knitwear (I own a few, so I did appreciate this part). And a visit to Church’s shoe store to scam the “purchase” of a pair of tan brogues. There is plenty more on the fashion front, all great fun, although we do end up feeling sorry for the hapless sales assistants. Matt also makes a number of “dine and dash” visits to trendy London restaurants where Sutton again displays a fine touch for criticizing trendy menus and pompous wine lists.
Then there is Matt Freeman Associates, the independent firm the narrator has set up after spending time as an employee in a more traditional, larger City firm. The author presages this aspect of the book with his epigram at the start: “Great ideology creates great times”, Kim Jong-il. I doubt the deceased North Korean leader is quoted approvingly in many English novels, but he is a beacon of hope for Matt and his business — his “plan” is to serve as an agent bridging North Korea with English capital markets.
Plus there was Kim Jong-il. Or was there? Who knew whether he was alive or dead. Or if he was alive in what sort of state of health. Had he been rendered useless by a stroke, as recent reports had suggested? A pale shadow of his former, extraordinary self, lying semi-comatose, surrounded by weeping flunkies, in some outlandish palatial mansion. What a pity. I’d liked his style. His jumpsuits and buoffant hairdo — would he still have someone to attend to his toilet? How I’d liked his reputation as being something of a ladies’ man — the fact he’d fathered numerous children and was now living, or maybe not, with a former movie star. I’d liked his power and the fact he’d so troubled both the US and China. And how if he went anywhere, which not surprisingly was not often, at least not far — who would have him? — he went by a lengthy, bombproof train. It wasn’t that he’d been concerned about his carbon footprint — though given his nuclear ambitions, one could argue he’d been trying to do his bit to cut carbon emissions — he was scared shitless.
Sutton’s take on empty global capitalism is almost as good as his one on empty contemporary fashion but the book suffered for me in that he does not devote nearly enough space to exploring it, teasing rather than delivering. If I had a wish list for Get Me Out Of Here, it would have been that it had more of the finance and business angle to it.
Which leaves the American Psycho thread, involving a string of failed relationships. They start with the mother of an old school chum, extend through a fiancee who abandoned him, a casual sex trip to Mallorca and Matt’s latest, an affair with 24-year-old Bobbie, more than a decade younger than him, whom we meet watching I’m A Celebrity — Get Me Out Of Here on the telly.
If she hadn’t been so exceptionally pretty I’d have left by now. She was simply gorgeous, even when she was engrossed in some tired reality TV show. She was still wearing her work clothes — a tight dark skirt and thin, baby blue polo neck, with patterned, light pink tights. She went for bright colour coordinations, said it was in this season — and she would have known — but for someone who was so careful about her appearance she was remarkably careless about her clothes. She never hung them up properly, choosing insead to leave them where they fell. The bathroom floor was awash with them, along with dirty, damp towels. I had no idea how she managed to look smart and not remotely crumpled, or skanky.
I found this thread the least satisfying in the book. Sutton downplays the realism of it deliberately, but every time it became the centre of the narrative I found it more distracting than disturbing — Matt is so charmingly empty a character in every other respect that it is hard to treat him seriously as a potential psychopath.
One final observation on another strength of the book is the author’s ability to take the reader on a journey through modern central London. Matt lives in a concrete apartment block next door to the Barbican, an area I know a bit about, and he carries that off well (including the soulless concrete plazas, corridors and a Thresher’s wine store). I’ve already mention the Canary Wharf plaza and Bond Street. Bobbie lives in Battersea Rise, which enables Sutton to explore both that part of South London and aspects of Pimlico and Chelsea across the river. I had my A to Z out throughout my reading and it served me well.
I hope those thoughts supply enough of a taste for those who have not read Get Me Out Of Here to make a judgment. If you like satire — or a kind of off-the-wall noir — you will probably find much to like in the book. And if you want a jaundiced, but entirely plausible, look at contemporary London, there is much to appreciate here. And even if those two aspects don’t have attraction, the novel is different enough to be worth your while.