Review by Humfrey Hunter @humfreyhunter
The first Po Bronson book I read, What Should I Do With My Life?, is a collection of true stories about people who decide to change their lives and move in the direction they truly want to go. I read it in my late twenties and it had such a positive effect on me I decided to read everything else Bronson had written, starting with the first book he’d published, a novel called Bombardiers. I skimmed over the description (I didn’t care what it said – I was going to read the book anyway) but picked up enough to know it was set in an investment bank during the nineteen-eighties and Bronson had himself worked somewhere similar. An interesting blend.
So, onto the book. Mark ‘Eggs’ Igino, a young graduate, starts work on the mortgage desk of a large San Francisco investment bank, a wildly dysfunctional environment where long-term and successful employees like Sid Geeder are trapped in a vortex of riches and self-hatred by on the one hand their enormous salaries and the vast piles of share options they are building up to cash in at some unknown point in the future and on the other hand the loathing they feel for their clients, their bosses and themselves for allowing themselves to let their lives slip away in this depressing style.
The results are spectacularly good, a wonderful, wonderful read. As with any great book, it is the characters who are the most important ingredient and in Igino and Geeder Bronson created two men who I will never forget. Bombardiers is full of humour, both black and slapstick, and tells a story I could not put down because I was so desperate to find out what happened to Igino and Geeder (there is a moment very near the end where I had tears in my eyes). It is also (less importantly) a fascinating glimpse into the world of banking in the 1980s, which reveals truths and lessons which are surely as relevant now as they were then. Human greed is, of course, the same today as it has always been.
I love this book, loved it when I first read it and love it now. The characters, the story, the writing, the message, the energy, all of it. Bombardiers is everything first novels should aspire to be: fearless, confident, playful, adventurous, thrilling and made of a story which makes you look at your own life in a different way. In fact I am so crazy about this book that I have two copies of it, one I lend to people and one – the copy I first read – which I keep permanently on my shelf.
If an ex-banker has written a better book, I’d be very surprised. And why Bombardiers is not a fixture on ‘best first novels’ lists I have no idea. For me it’s the best ever. Which leads me to two questions: what do you think is the best first novel ever written? And second: are there any books which, like me with Bombardiers, you love so much you have two copies of, one for yourself and one to lend out? Or maybe it’s just me.