An Absolute Scandal by Penny Vincenzi

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It’s 1988. Sloaney girls buy ludicrously expensive shoes on the Kings Road. Liquid lunches are de-rigeur. Merchant banks still exist. Money is everywhere. What a cool setting: the recent past is rarely written about. The novel’s time period spans some of my lifetime and yet it is as alien to me as corsets and telegrams.

This is a classic Penny Vincenzi beach read- lots of escapism through (someone else’s) family drama, extra-marital affairs and entangled acquaintances. What elevates it a little is this instalment put finance front and centre, whilst still being a page turner. Not especially sexy, you think? Hear me out.

Lloyds of London is one of the biggest insurance marketplaces globally. Investors or ‘names’ have unlimited liability, and therefore are personally responsible for underwriting losses. One by one, families crumble and fold as they face destitution.

There is old-school gentlemen Nigel, pretty young widowed Catherine, Flora the feisty grandmother, and charming banker Simon- all of them on the precipice of bankruptcy. Inevitable this takes its toll on those around them. Apparently money is the leading cause of stress in relationships, something Vincenzi shows to great effect.

I would say that ending is a too abrupt- I’d have enjoyed a courtroom finale. More conclusiveness would have made it a more satisfying chick-lit standalone. Still, there’s a bit more substance here than behind the shoulder-pads and blow-dry.

Read: For a glimpse into a more hedonistic time.

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