At a relatively early point in reading HOUSE OF ALL NATIONS by Christina Stead I gave up on memorizing all of the characters (there are hundreds of them) aside from the most important ones especially Jules Bertillion, the head of the French bank in the late 1920’s which what the title refers to.
I also lost track of the many different complex financial maneuvers discussed from hiding money in shell companies to setting up dummy businesses to the various stock market transactions
However, neither of these dulled my appreciation for this book- one of the most detailed narratives I’ve ever read spread out over 760 pages.
For this book is also a primer for writers not in the how to sense but more like the scale Everest sense. That is one human being does something you yourself know it would almost be impossible for you to emulate.
The amount of detail, of meticulously documented scenes between one or 10 people, the frenetic energy, the sprawling narrative, the endless cast of characters make the reader envision a colossal multi-year effort having gone into this book’s writing but Stead apparently wrote this in one year basing it on her experiences working at a bank in Paris.
What is this book actually about? Well once I finished it and then tried to organize the cast of thousands in my head, I came to the conclusion that Stead had perfectly described the unstable financial solution epitomized by the bank headed by Bertillion. Adolph Hitler is mentioned several times by name as a crazy politician in Germany before he is the country’s leader and one gets the feeling that this specific chaos is an indicator of the chaos to come globally.
I also see parallels in what happened in 2008 when the credit bubble burst. In fact, I can picture some of the characters and situations updated to the present day.
In the end, this book is nothing more than a portrait of a shady financial institution and its head and the many others who either work or have accounts or are otherwise in its orbit.
Christina Stead as I’ve said before in reviews of her books FOR LOVE ALONE http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2009/05/for-love-alone-by-christina-stead.html and THE MAN WHO LOVED CHILDREN http://rgdinmalaysia.xanga.com/649792373/the-man-who-loved-children-by-christina-stead/
is a truly great writer….Her detail, her knowledge of character, of people and their patterns of behavior and her ability to spin a scene are without much competition in literary history. This is the fourth book I’ve read by her and each one of her books is different in their own way.