Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Book review : Being Simon Haines - Tom Vaughan MacAuley

Today, I'm taking part in the blog tour for Being Simon Haines by Tom Vaughan MacAuley, which is the author's debut novel.

As the title suggests, the book focuses on Simon Haines, a man who would have been labelled a yuppie back in the eighties - a young upwardly mobile professional. The word has fallen into disuse but I don't think it has a more contemporary replacement. He is intensely focused, career-driven and ambitious and for the last ten years, he has been chasing the dream of becoming a partner at the legendary, family-run law firm, Fiennes & Plunkett. He has made it through the unrelenting, insanely intense eight months of Campaign, and is now taking a much needed break in Cuba, just before the decision of who will be chosen as partner is revealed.

Simon has chosen Cuba because he wants to be soothed and restored by the beautiful beaches and the exotic sights and sounds, discovering the locals and the famous landscapes, such as Ernest Hemingway's house. The early chapters have overtones of Bill Bryson, with Simon coming across as an enthusiastic but rather clueless traveller. The focus soon turns inwards though, with Simon's travels becoming a voyage of discovery of himself and his psyche rather than a new country, revisiting his past to discover where his future lies.

Campaign has been brutal, with non-stop 36-hour work sessions, constant stress and grabbing a few hours of sleep only when absolutely necessary being the norm. Needless to say, Simon is a hair's breadth away from burnout and he hasn't come through the whole process unscathed - his relationship with childhood sweetheart Sophie has been smashed to smithereens, his rapport with his friends and family have become strained and he has started using alcohol as a crutch. Simon has convinced himself that everything will suddenly become perfect if he is voted in as partner and gets the millionaire lifestyle he has striven for, but is this really what he wants and needs ?

I frequently found myself smiling as I recognised myself in various characters : Sophie the teacher, who has chosen a more sedate, less financially rewarding but arguably more socially valuable career path, who is looked down on by her richer and more ambitious peers; Simon, the language student returning to university after his year out in Naples and feeling disconcerted to see all his student friends out there in the real world, looking for jobs and moving ahead, while he is still in carefree student mentality; even Simon as a guileless teenager, heading off to university unsure if he will fit in or if everyone else will be richer, snobbier and more la-di-da than him.

At other times, I found Simon to be overly pretentious, self-centred and superficial though. He has worked hard to get where he is, but as Sophie tries to point out to him, is it really what he wants or does he just want to say he won? He has so many chances to put things right in his relationships, and every single time, he manages to screw things up. He is certainly a complex character, and I ended up having very ambivalent feelings for him.

As the ofiicial blurb says, Being Simon Haines paints a portrait of a generation of lost young professionals, and asks the biggest question of all: even if we find out what makes us happy, are we strong enough to choose it? It's an introspective, meandering voyage of self discovery that gives interesting insight into life at the top of the career ladder and what it takes (and costs) to achieve such dizzying heights of success. I found it to be a bit long and wordy at times, with some of the minor characters, particularly those met in Cuba, rather irrelevant and superfluous, but I was still rooting for Simon to get what he wanted right up until the end. Now that I've turned the final page, I'm still not entirely sure if he got his happy ending or not though.

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: RedDoor Publishing (22 Jun. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910453358
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910453353
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 2.2 x 21 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to share my honest opinion.

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