As I close the back page of Joss Sheldon’s new novel, and rest it on my knee, I take a deep breath. I need it. I haven’t inhaled a morsel of air whilst reading those last five paragraphs. My heartbeat is racing and my mind is numbed. That ending! Was is happy or sad? Just or unjust? Tragic or comedic? I can’t tell. I can’t tell who the good guy was, who deserved a happy ending, and who deserved to suffer. I’ll be thinking about this for days, but I guess that’s the point; it reflects life. There are few ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ in real life, just people, capable of doing good things, and capable of doing bad things. The personalities in ‘Money Power Love’ are shaped by the world around them, turning good and bad as circumstances dictate; showing us their strengths, and showing us their frailties. It’s breath-taking, literally, because it touches upon the very core of our humanity.
I’ve started at the end, which, incidentally, is exactly what Sheldon does; opening the book when its three protagonists are already old. These geriatrics were born on adjacent beds, three seconds after the other, but they were split apart when a fire killed their families. Mayer was adopted by a rich family, Archibald by an elderly aunt, and Hugo was dumped in a workhouse. These experiences turn them into very different people. Yet, deep down, they remain the same – united by birth, and by a deeply held empathy for their erstwhile brothers. They veer from good to bad, showing us their strengths and frailties; their naked humanity.
Raised in a London as sordid as in any you’ll find in a Charles Dickens novel, surrounded by eccentric characters and peregrine aromas, our heroes fall in love with the same girl, at the same time. Their shared nature compels them to court her, but their disparate upbringings ensure they do so in very different ways.
Their love unites them, but it also tears them apart. After one character marries the girl, we see that love turn into lust, longing and insanity; driving the other two characters to spend their lives chasing money and power, in the vain hope it will help them to lure the girl at the second time of asking.
We plunge, head first, into the world of goldsmith-bankers, following their footsteps as they learn how to create money out of nothing; fuelling industry, and forcing millions of people into factories. We watch on as a ragtag group insurgents fight back, with grinding teeth and puckered brows, in a very English class war. We travel the crackled waves, to observe the spread of the British Empire, the scents of sweet cloves and burnt milk, dastardly imperial policies, and small acts of human kindness. We hop from India to Tasmania and on to China, before making our way to Africa.
We arrive at this delicious ending. Is it just? Is it right? Is it in any way acceptable? I don’t know. It’s human, all too human, but I suppose you’ll have to take a look and see that for yourself. Right now, I need to go outside and get some fresh air.