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In 2000, Paul Livingson graduated from university and got his first proper grown up job. By 2007 he had filed for bankruptcy. With no failed businesses, unfortunate property depreciation or poor stock market investments in between you might be at a loss to see how he ended up there, until you read his diary of those years and it all becomes crystal clear.
Originally based in Bristol, Paul soon follows a girl, and the lure of a better job with a bigger paycheque, to London. But the capital is expensive, and girls are expensive, and public sector workers don't earn all that much, even with London-weighting. Debts that started off small but still significant soon spiral into larger, uncontrollable borrowing.
Paul is a spender of the Save Karyn 'Swipe, sign, it was mine' school of thought. While he does buy a few gadgets (and, oh the memories of the early noughties when you could shell out two grand on a computer compared to the 1/10th of that I spent on this new one a few weeks back) his major weakness is holidays: romantic breaks, stag dos, foreign weddings he's not fussy as long as it's abroad. He's also someone who can't say no, so even when he knows he's in the red, has maxed out every card and will need to apply for another just for this trip....he still does it. With friends on bigger incomes encouraging him to spend what he doesn't have, but his family judging him harshly when he does, he's can't win. But it seems that when the going gets tough, another holiday makes it quite alright.
The diary style works well as it moves the story on, though you do have to pay attention to the dates as some entries are much further apart than others. It's a very chatty, punchy book, a little like a not quite as good male Bridget Jones's Diary and it's funny a lot of the time even if you don't agree with how he rationalizes his spending decisions. I read it quickly over a few days on holiday and it was a great book to travel with as you can pick it up and put it down easily without losing the momentum.
I really liked the book, but I couldn't get on board with the message. While Paul might think he comes across as big and clever for having found a loophole that allows him to ditch his debt with few consequences, in reality he appears at best naïve and at worst utterly stupid. Even before he gets to the bankruptcy stage his attitude is very much one of relinquished responsibility, an ostrich burying its head in the sand. I have never known anyone so financially illiterate and it actually made me cringe at times. His conclusion that it was the banks' fault for offering him the credit in the first place was only slightly less maddening than the ease with which he got the bankruptcy he so keenly wanted. I know bankruptcy is seen as much more of an option these days, and in certain circumstances I can see the logic of it for both individuals and their debtors, but taking too many lads' holidays you cannot afford and then using it as a means not to pay for them? Seriously? I just wanted to slap him.
I'm taking a star off for this attitude and because he proves to be a very lazy individual who skives off work to go shopping (book shopping, but still) and doesn't even seem to consider the work harder or longer approach to bringing in more money (cheeky raise request in the early years aside). The story is a bit too simple, the answer a bit too easy for him and if that's really all it takes to declare yourself bankrupt then I think we need to make the process harder before others read this book and get ideas. You can work in the public sector, take 5+ holidays a year and still pay off student debts without relying on your plastic friend, even having enough left over to buy a house or fund a terribly expensive cheerleading habit, as this reviewer can show you. I would have respected him a little more if he'd tried, but somehow becoming a rate tart and shifting your balance from one 0% card to another just doesn't seem much of an effort.
Recommended, but please don't use it as inspiration!
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
Out now in paperback (£6.05 Amazon) and Kindle (£1.92) forms. I'd say worth it for the latter, a bit much for the former.