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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Mark and the Void

by
Paul Murray


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Mark and the Void



Title: The Mark and the Void
Author: Paul Murray
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 459 pages
Availability: The Mark and the Void - US
The Mark and the Void - UK
The Mark and the Void - Canada
The Mark and the Void - India

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Our Assessment:

B- : too uncertain of what it wants to be/do

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 7/8/2015 Neil OíSullivan
The Guardian . 22/7/2015 Alex Clark
The Independent . 16/7/2015 Max Liu
The Independent A. 24/7/2015 Leyla Sanai
Irish Times D- 11/7/2015 Eileen Battersby
The NY Times . 29/10/2015 Carmela Ciuraru
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/12/2015 Antoine Wilson
The Observer A 9/8/2015 Edward Docx
San Francisco Chronicle B- 5/11/2015 D. Van Denburgh
The Spectator . 1/8/2015 Suzi Feay
Sunday Times . 26/7/2015 Peter Kemp
The Telegraph . 21/8/2015 Leo Robson
The Times . 25/7/2015 Dominic Maxwell
Wall St. Journal B+ 23/10/2015 Sam Sacks


  Review Consensus:

  Wide range of opinions, but generally quite impressed and amused -- though almost all find not everything works

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Mark and the Void is full of people desperately creating their own reality. (...) Murrayís style is to draw character through dialogue and he is brilliant at creating a cast of banking types at once hilarious and awful. (...) From the opening page he advertises a plot that, for all its real-world relevance, is impossible to take seriously. And yet, such is his panache that through the chaos emerges a tale of complex truths and authentic humanity." - Neil OíSullivan, Financial Times

  • "Indeed: itís a meta-novel, and it goes meta from the very first page. (...) The Mark and the Void is a mess; there is too much going on (.....) And yet its successes are serious and impressive. (...) A different kind of Angelaís Ashes." - Alex Clark, The Guardian

  • "But is Murray's fiction about "a fiction" funny ? I enjoyed the bank's plausibly ridiculous "counterintuitive strategy" of "monetising failure". I smiled when Paul considered writing a mystery with a "3D finger pointing out" of its final page: "It was YOU !" But I never laughed out loud." - Max Liu, The Independent

  • "The world of banking is conjured up with skill and acuity. There are numerous touches which would be too implausible to be true were they not echoes of the crisis-ridden banks in the real world (.....) A joy from start to finish." - Leyla Sanai, The Independent

  • "As a writer Murray relies on quickfire dialogue rather than descriptive prose. His style of writing demands action, response and timing, none of which is well served in this tedious, laboured, self-conscious book. (...) The problem is that Murray lacks the linguistic verve and energy that sustain Martin Amis. Murrayís comic arabesques fall flat. (...) Bloated and complacent, the sloppily written narrative meanders along." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "That Mr. Murray makes Claude the virtuous character is among the many sly touches in this dark satire, an intricately constructed, extremely funny follow-up to Skippy Dies" - Carmela Ciuraru, The New York Times

  • "Behind this novelís antic machinations lurks a sharply intelligent satire, if one is willing to suspend enough disbelief. In the end, the plot veers toward farce, which, though frothy, seems a more appropriate register for Claude and Paulís high jinks. Tying everything up, Murray displays considerable architectonic skill, shutting down this wild and unruly book, a solid landing after a bumpy flight." - Antoine Wilson, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is it, at last: a fine work of fiction set in the present day that kicks all those asses that so urgently need to be kicked. (...) The Mark and the Void is the best novel I have reviewed by someone of my own generation writing on this side of the Atlantic. Itís unabashedly intelligent, itís ingeniously inventive, itís richly alive in language, thought and character; itís read-the-whole-page-again funny, and hugely entertainingly and philosophically engaged with the great questions and circumstances of our times. It is the answer to the question of what a serious and seriously talented contemporary novelist should be writing." - Edward Docx, The Observer

  • "From this strained premise, the plot sprawls and unspools and flounders. (...) Yet despite the frantic, almost desperate attempts to entertain, Murray, through Claude, seems to be on a philosophical quest, a quest to look beneath the veneers of the stories people tell themselves in order to mitigate their responsibilities to others. (...) Murray doesnít quite pull it off -- but his heart is in the right place." - Damian Van Denburgh, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The novel fizzes with cutting observations and gags about post-Celtic-Tiger Dublin life. (...) The worlds of art, literature, commerce and banking are all rife with magical thinking, Murray suggests. (...) This novel is sharp, satirical, tinged with dread and utterly of the moment." - Suzi Feay, The Spectator

  • "Murray doesnít alternate between writing about economics and writing about writing but instead rigs a scenario that allows him to write about both -- and a lot of other things -- at the same time. (...) He has taken an extreme, but mostly high-yield, risk in trying his hand at this more divisive subtype: the daftly questing, wild-goose-chasing philosophical comedy that asks a great deal of the reader while -- deliberately -- offering nothing in return." - Leo Robson, The Telegraph

  • "The substitution of empty simulacra for reality -- fake capital, fake prosperity, fake happiness -- is the unifying theme of Mr. Murrayís sprawling book. (...) The Mark and the Void is an exuberant pile-up of office satire, broad slapstick and meditations on art and philosophy" - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Mark and the Void is set in contemporary Ireland, here still (or again) in the throes of yet another wave of financial and banking crises. A short introductory chapter is like a pitch as to what the novel-to-come might be about, beginning: "Idea for a novel: we have a banker rob his own bank" and concluding, reaching out even more (desperately) to the reader: "That's the set-up. What do you think ? Would people buy it ?" The novel proper then begins, more or less, with this set-up -- though most of that set-up is background rather than any bank-robbery prep, explaining who the banker central character is and how he got to Dublin but also revealing that he is being watched, and that his watcher will eventually introduce himself into the banker's life: "and at that moment everything will change".
       The banker -- an investment banker -- is a Frenchman from a humble background, Claude Martingale, who studied hard and made good, only to find that his blacksmith father didn't approve of the career-path he embarked on. Both his parents now dead, Claude works a hundred hours a week and doesn't have much of a life; even his apartment is essentially bare.
       The man who is watching Claude is Paul, a failed writer who eventually introduces himself and explains that he would like to make Paul the subject of his next book:

It seems to me that your ife embodies certain values, certain fundamental features of our modern world. We're living in a time of great change, and a man like you is right at the coal-face of that change.
       Claude doesn't really see it, but he's willing to go along with it and gives Paul greater access to his life, specifically his working life. As it turns out, Paul isn't really interested in writing a novel any longer -- he sees little point to novels any longer, and still seethes about Bimal Benerjee, whose book came out the same time as his and completely overshadowed it. Instead, Paul is looking to rob the bank. Given that it's an investment bank and its assets aren't on site -- indeed, as is meant to be part of the joke, they're arguably entirely intangible (and hence arguably unreal) -- that plan fizzles out very quickly (indeed, far too quickly: the plan may not have been suited for the circumstances, but the basic idea surely had some promise). With it, the novel fizzles out some too -- that promised set-up from the introductory section -- "we have a banker rob his own bank" -- seems to have been tossed aside, and instead we get a mess of other storylines.
       Despite the fake writing project fizzling Claude and Paul don't lose touch. Paul wants to enlist Claude to help him woo the waitress he has his eye on, while Paul wants to take advantage of Claude for more of his harebrained schemes. Claude sees -- as unobservant Paul doesn't -- that Paul's marriage is collapsing and pushes him to get back to writing -- but Paul sees his future and payday in even less promising schemes.
       Meanwhile, there's a lot happening at Claude's workplace. Staid Bank of Torabundo weathered the Irish banking crisis well under the cautious stewardship of its CEO -- which, of course, has now cost him his job:
It is true that his sceptical attitude saved BOT from financial catastrophe. But once we had survived, the board felt a more audacious leader was needed in order to press home our advantage.
       The new CEO, Porter Blankly, is: "a man not afraid to take chances", and modern-day finance here is presented as a world in which taking chances -- preferably highly leveraged -- is the only way to make the big bucks. The counterintuitive wins the day, and when things go south the way to save the day is by making even bigger bets -- to the point where even greater powers that be ensure that failure is not an option or possibility -- at least for the big boys (and governments); the common man, of course, doesn't fare very well in this scenario (which is being played out all around Claude all the while).
       A philosopher that Claude (and surprisingly many other of the characters) are fans of François Texier, who: "had many fascinating ideas about simulacra, and the derealization of modern life". The Mark and the Void is full of simulacra and the derealized: the waitress Claude has his eye on paints pictures in a simulacra-series, and of course the bank's business is entirely removed from reality. Texier, in fact, created a work called The Mark and the Void, too, which also comes to play a role in the novel
       Like some cancer out of control, Claude's bank grows and mutates (and, of course, soon threatens to implode under the weight of all its less-than-worthless holdings) . The idea behind the rapid growth is worryingly sensible enough:
A sufficiently large bank would create its own reality as opposed to simply reacting to consensus.
       Murray's book tries to be both metatextual meditation on the novel -- what can it be in our time ? is there still a place for it ? and what should the contemporary novel look like ? -- as well as satire on the modern-day finance system. But Murray careens rather wildly about, the novel uncomfortably shifting between pure farce and attempts at more serious commentary about fiction and reality, or about the way the international finance system 'works' (and doesn't). Some of this is reasonably funny -- but far too much isn't; worse, little is seen through particularly well.
       When Murray goes over the top he undermines much of the rest of his story: the ridiculous figure of Paul's eastern European sidekick, Igor, in particular is overdone in every respect -- not least that:
when I type his name into the search engine, a red VIRUS WARNING!!! sign flashes up immediately on the screen, and a moment later a member of the IT team bursts into the office, demanding to know what I've done.
       Paul's history as a writer, and his still festering feuds with a critic, his editor, and detested Bimal Benerjee -- who of course also shows up, launching a new book -- also don't work particularly well -- and his alternative get-rich-quick schemes are little better. Certainly, the figure of the one-time writer who can't get back on track is hard to do anything new with, but with his Paul -- as with much of the book -- Murray tries to do too many different things, leaving a rather unconvincing mess.
       Some of the scenes and ideas are decent, but The Mark and the Void is over-stuffed with both, and Murray can't commit to any particular one(s). He tries to have and do it all, but doesn't come close to building an edifice that could sustain it -- relying also rather too often on the cheap (and generally just not that funny) laugh.
       Much of the writing is engaging enough, and the ideas intriguing enough, to keep readers going, but there's rarely enough payoff to impress, and even the final (and not entirely unexpected) turn is rather more fizzle than surprise.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 November 2015

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Links:

The Mark and the Void: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Irish literature

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About the Author:

       Irish author Paul Murray was born in 1975.

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© 2015 the complete review

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