Paperback review: Joy, By Jonathan Lee

Lawyers: the opposite of real people

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The Independent Culture

In a sleek office building at the heart of London's Square Mile, a corporate lawyer plummets 40 feet on to a marble floor. The young woman – who was saddled with the grimly ironic name of Joy – had been haunted by a tragedy in her family. But was she really suicidal? Did she jump – or was she pushed?

Jonathan Lee's second novel (after the offbeat, Tokyo-set Who is Mr Satoshi?) is a black comedy of exuberance and bite. The story unfolds via a third-person account of the events that led up to Joy's fall, interspersed with a series of monologues from friends and colleagues after the event. The reader must sort through these self-exculpatory speeches and determine the truth behind the incident.

The conceit is original, and brilliantly executed; the characters' voices – from the toffish tones of Joy's ineffectual husband, Dennis, to the complaints of her put-upon secretary, Barbara – ventriloquised with flair. There are some great lines: Joy admired Dennis "the way you might admire a well-made French film, one where everything's shot from odd angles".

The humour often has a satirical edge, as Lee – who once worked in the City – depicts the legal industry as a deviously efficient enabler of capitalist greed. Barbara puts it bluntly: "All these lawyers. They're not people. They're professionals. They're the opposite of people!"

The author loses his nerve a little at the climax, in which he forsakes ironic detachment and reaches for pathos. Nevertheless, this is the wittiest, most addictive piece of literary yuppie-bashing since Martin Amis's Money. Lee is a writer to keep an eye on.