In financial circles, “dead cat bounce” means a brief period of recovery in the price a declining stock. It’s safe to say that Seth Freedman, a former City trader and author of a book about drugs in the Square Mile pre-crash, knows a thing or two about plummeting stock.
His first novel, however, is concerned with human decline. Although Dead Cat Bounce is fictional, its connections with its author’s life are numerous and discomfiting.
Freedman, a self-proclaimed rich boy from Hampstead Garden Suburb, declined higher education, opting instead for cocaine and a lucrative trading job in the City at 18. He eventually cut loose from his hedonistic life in London and moved to Israel, where he joined the IDF and promptly changed his political tune.
From his flat in Jerusalem, he began writing a controversial column for the Guardian, generally though not exclusively critical of Israel.
His unnamed narrator begins by proclaiming his scorn for non-Jews.There are no Jews without a loathing of non-Jews, or over-militarised Israelis without devious Arabs, bankers without the stupid rest, the haves without the parasitic have-nots; men without vacuous women. He hates them all with an adolescent, determined nihilism, seeming to care only about the next line of top-grade cocaine.
The plot — if it can be called that — follows a two-part structure. The first half of the book takes place in the narrator’s Jewish London — among the hedgerows of the Heath and the cafés of NW3 — and follows him roving between drug binges and girlfriends.
The action here is the descent into extreme narcotic lows; frozen gums and bloody, chewed fingernails all painstakingly described. Girlfriends implore him to stop. Mostly, he pays lip service. Meanwhile, he lands a job at a City bank and soon transfers his obsession with online gambling to gambling with stocks. More money floods in.
Always precarious, the narrator’s life falls to new lows as he can’t stay away from the cocaine and booze. In the nick of time — and utterly implausibly — two angels from Mossad descend and whisk him off to Israel where he enters an elite unit. He falls into step with the rigours of army life, becoming the star his Mossad handlers require, deftly shooting his way through Hebron and Gaza.
Eerily and eternally misplaced, he is asked to infiltrate spheres of obscene wealth. The final stage of his journey is — wait for it — placement as a Guardian columnist, a job arranged by his Mossad handlers to bring them closer to key Palestinians.
Freedman’s having a laugh, clearly, but it’s a dubious laugh, as the reader’s will to indulge his oblivion-seeking hero has waned. There’s been too much snorting, too much swearing, anger, bloodied noses, floors and brains, too many women fallen by the wayside, too many dead comrades.
What is troubling about the book is also what makes it interesting: namely, the hero’s utter lack of redemption at the end. Comparisons to Freedman’s idol, Brett Easton Ellis, are not outlandish. As in American Psycho, there is no journey towards the emotional fulfilment the character badly needs – there is only more consumption, more obsession, more drugs.
The book’s opening is a high-octane riff on a drink — and I challenge you to stop at that. “The perfect mojito is a line of coke. See what I’m saying? Rum, lime, sugar, mint — yeah, yeah, yeah, but trust me, it’s the poor man’s Charlie…” And on it goes, spiralling down and out.
Freedman has managed to make a page-turner out of the adolescent, circular thinking of a clever druggie. Whether Dead Cat Bounce will appeal to anyone beyond those familiar with the stomping ground of north London’s wealthier Jews — and the odd Guardian reader — is questionable. But if there’s an appetite for an Anglo-Jewish American Psycho, this could go some way to sating it.