Trust by Hernan Diaz: ‘Bending and aligning reality’  

Cover image for Trust by Hernan DiazI was intrigued by Hernan Diaz’s ambitious, complicated novel when I spotted it on Twitter, presented as a ‘literary puzzle’. That eye-catching cover might have had something to do with it, too. It sounded like the kind of book that could fall flat on its face but I put up my hand for a proof. Set in early twentieth-century New York, Trust is a clever exploration of truth, perception and morality told through the story of Andrew and Mildred Bevel: one apparently the most successful financier Wall Street has seen; the other a philanthropist lauded for endowments made to the arts.

His mourning was simply a more radical expression of his marriage: both were the result of a perverse combination of love and distance.

Andrew Bevel has used his mathematical prowess to exploit the markets throughout the roaring ’20s. His prescience results in his fortune expanding rather than collapsing in the months before and after the 1929 Crash which results in ruin and penury for so many. Already a renowned philanthropist, Mildred establishes charities to help the poor barely scratching the surface of her husband’s profits. In 1938, a novel is published portraying this couple in a less than flattering light, soon becoming a bestseller with its story of the cold, detached husband, obsessed with his work, and his wife seeking solace in the arts who dies of madness in a Swiss sanatorium. Desperate to rescue his reputation, Bevel employs a young woman with a talent for writing who finds herself puzzled by his insistence on painting his wife as homely and insipid. When Mildred’s papers are released to the public, Ida decides to investigate what she was never allowed to read, finding a journal which reveals the secret at the heart of the Bevel marriage.

Stocks, shares and all that garbage are just claims to future value. So if money is fiction, finance capital is the fiction of a fiction. That’s what all those criminals trade in: fictions.

Diaz structures his novel in four discrete sections beginning with Harold Vanner’s Bonds, the novel that seizes public attention in 1938, offering a view of a loveless marriage of convenience between a reclusive financier and the daughter of an impoverished yet socially connected family. It’s followed by fragments of Bevel’s self-serving autobiography which he employs Ida to ghost write. Several decades later, Mildred’s almost indecipherable, fragmented journal offers Ida the solution to the puzzle of his wife’s importance to Bevel. It’s a complicated structure which could easily have become incoherent but it works well. Diaz gives each section a clear and distinct voice, from Vanner’s coolly, elegant fictionalisation of this puzzling marriage to Mildred’s diary extracts, increasingly fragmented as her sickness consumes her. For me, Ida’s section is the most enjoyable with its juxtaposition of her exasperating Italian anarchist father, full of colourful stories, with Bevel, still obsessed with playing the markets yet intent on Ida producing a hagiography which will rescue his reputation. The denouement didn’t entirely work for me – I’m not sure I wanted a solution to the Mildred puzzle – but the journey to it had me gripped. I dithered about putting this one on my Booker wish list and in the end decided not to but the judges decided otherwise, and on reflection I think they were right.

Picador Books: London 9781529074499 416 pages Hardback

20 thoughts on “Trust by Hernan Diaz: ‘Bending and aligning reality’  ”

    1. That sounds like pretty good progress to me! I couldn’t resist this one when I saw it on Twitter, thinking at the same time that it might be too clever by half but Diaz brings it off well. Hope you enjoy it, Annabel.

  1. This one has been on my TBR for awhile now, and you’ve reminded me why I jotted it down. Interesting to hear which aspects of the puzzle you were less concerned with having solved…I’m keen to see (it’ll take months for my copy to arrive) if I feel the same or whether my curiosity will have been sparked differently.

      1. Funnily enough, later yesterday, after leaving this comment I found a brief writeup in an old issue of the NYTBR as well. Something must be nudging me towards this book. Heheh (Any excuse, you know…)

  2. You describe aspects of the book as a puzzle. I;ve just looked at the FT review, which says the book is a literary Rubik’s Cube. For all your positivity, this may not be the book for me. I’m quite a simple soul!

  3. I should be reading this fairly soon (I’m so behind at the moment!) so I’m glad to hear you felt the unusual structure worked overall. It does sound interesting and yes, the fabulous cover certainly had something to do with me wanting to read it…

  4. It sounds incredibly intricate and complex, but I’m glad you feel that Diaz has pulled it off. The fact that each section has its own distinct voice must really help – and that fabulous vintage New York setting too. Wonderful! It seems to be shaping up as a favourite for the shortlist.

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