Elliot Perlman’s fourth novel is tentatively billed as a corporate satire and has a striking opening line: ‘I am absolutely terrified of losing a job I absolutely hate.’ The man in this all-too-familiar predicament is Stephen Maserov, a former English teacher turned lawyer. Maserov is a lowly second year in the Terry Gilliam-esque law firm Freely Savage Carter Blanche, which, apart from sounding like a character in a Tennessee Williams play, is home to loathsome dinosaurs in pinstripe suits and an HR department referred to as ‘The Stasi’.
In 2003, the year in which Elliot Perlman’s previous novel Seven Types of Ambiguity was published, the eminent gadfly David Marr suggested that Australian novelists failed to address major contemporary social concerns. As if anticipating Marr’s criticisms, Perlman wove a plot that involved stock market speculation (and peculation), upmarket Melbourne brothels, privatised prisons, privately managed health care, downsizing and unemployment in the education sector, the crisis in the humanities, economic rationalism, globalisation. Late-twentieth-century capitalism and its discontents, in short. The novel obviously spoke to the judges of the Miles Franklin Award, who shortlisted it for that pre-eminent, if contentious, prize.