Published: 22nd June 2017 (Red Door Books)
Meet Simon Haines.
For a decade he’s been chasing his dream: partnership at the legendary, family-run law firm of Fiennes & Plunkett. The gruelling hours and manic intensity of his job have come close to breaking him, but he has made it through the years and is now within a whisker of his millions: in less than two weeks, he will know the outcome of the partnership vote. He decides to spend the wait in Cuba in an attempt to rediscover his youthful enthusiasm and curiosity, and to clear his mind before the arrival of the news that might change his life forever. But alone in Havana he becomes lost in nostalgia and begins to relive his past…
Set against the backdrop of an uncertain world, and charged with emotion, Being Simon Haines is a searching story about contemporary London and aspiration, values and love. Painting a picture of a generation of young professionals, it asks the most universal of questions: are we strong enough to know who we are?
Simon Haines is someone that so many people can relate to – he is stressed out to the eyeballs, working far more hours in the day than he should be which is completely destructive to any relationships or friendships that he tries to have. As soon as I started reading this book, something resonated with me as I could relate to Simon, thankfully not to the same extreme. I could emphasise with his desire to do well but at the same time, not feeling quite good enough and the crippling effects of anxiety, the irrational nature of anxiety and its ability to just take over.
The long, unsociable hours that Simon has been working is in pursuit of a partnership within the prestigious law firm, Fiennes & Plunkett. However this has come at a cost, he has lost his long-suffering girlfriend who has had enough – there are only so many evenings she can spend on her own, wondering when (or if) Simon is coming home from work.
At the start of this book, Simon seems a bit blase as to what has happened and his contribution to the relationship breaking down but, with hindsight, I think this is just because he is physically and mentally exhausted by the pressure he, and his employers, are putting him under.
Simon is now on a cusp of a life changing moment, the vote as to whether he will be made partner, which either way will change his future. Interestingly, Simon decides to spend this wait in Cuba, alone, exploring the Cuban culture on an organised holiday – but all does not turn out as he expects and what ensues is Simon rediscovering himself and the person he is, not the person he has become.
I really liked the author’s writing style, it is very descriptive in his nature which can sometimes be a bit of a turn off for me, but it really works and makes this a brilliant read. It suits the premise of the book; Simon is a man is travelling alone, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures so if it wasn’t descriptive it just wouldn’t ring true. I really enjoyed the two sides of this book, firstly learning more about Simon, his past and how he ended up at Fiennes & Plunkett as well as learning about Cuba, it’s history and the feelings of its residents. Simon meets some great (and strange!) characters during his time in Cuba.
This book took me out of my comfort zone but I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written debut which will stay with me for some time. I look forward to more from Tom Vaughan MacAulay.
Tom Vaughan MacAulay lives in North London and is in the process of completing his second novel.