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 a driven man. He’s so driven in fact, that he’s lost all sense of who he really is and what he really wants out of life. As soon as this gorgeous book arrived with its strokable minimalist jacket I wanted to open it up and find out who Simon Haines was and why he’d lost all sense of himself along the way as he climbed the corporate ladder. I loved this relatable premise and I found this book totally engrossing once I’d started: I really wanted to get to the heart of the ‘real’ Simon and discover what had brought him to this point.
I also enjoyed the way that McAulay’s novel flips back and forward in time – from Simon’s journey of self-discovery in Cuba back to his formative years where we begin to see that Simon hasn’t always been a slave to the rat-race of competitive partnership battles; he was once a pretty normal guy with time for relationships, friends and dare I say it – fun?
The flashbacks into his past where we explore his relationships with girlfriend Sophie and best mate Dan from University begin to flesh Simon out for us as a character – transforming him into a much more nuanced and human character than the grey ‘suit’ that we meet at the beginning. We see that he once had time for people, hobbies and a zest for life that he’s lost touch with in his determination to make it in the legal world.
The fact that writer MacAuley is a solicitor himself means that the work stresses that Simon is feeling have an incredibly realistic feel and the way they build up and threaten to overwhelm Simon Haines mean that you really develop your sense of compassion for him as the novel progresses. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of his ‘escape’ to Cuba as well and felt that the balance between the present time and Simon’s past at the University of Nottingham was just right – allowing the reader to keep being pulled forward to the next development in Simon’s character until we begin – as he does – to get a truer sense of who he really is.
Simon’s law firm of Fiennes & Plunkett is incredibly well drawn with realistic characters and lots of legal jargon thrown in so that we really appreciate how immersive and overwhelming it can be for a young man who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of professional success. I loved Giles and his catastrophic disregard for protocol and felt he was a great foil for the serious moments of self-reflection and navel gazing that Simon developed in his ‘escape from it all’ in gorgeous Cuba.
Being Simon Haines is a refreshing read as it dares to be more than just another thriller and takes a genuine look at what we sometimes sacrifice in the pursuit of happiness in a way that never feels ‘worthy’ or sermonising. It allows us a glance into a dog-eat-dog world where success is deemed much more valuable than personal fulfilment and dares us to ask ourselves what we might have jettisoned along the way in our own lives.
I always enjoy a book much more if I’m not hyping myself up before I read it and Simon Haines was exactly that. It was definitely a grower and I found myself thinking about Simon’s life choices and their repercussions whilst driving to work and marking my essays at school. I will definitely seek out more books by Tom Vaughan McAulay and am curious about which direction he’ll go in his next novel. At times I really forgot that this was fiction – in the best possible way – and it’s a real testament to McAulay’s writing that we really believe in Simon’s plight and can empathise with his feelings of having lost himself somewhere along the way in his relentless pursuit of success before self.
I’d like to thank the lovely Anna @RedDoorBooks for sending me a copy of Being Simon Haines and allowing me to step outside my book comfort zone and enjoy a fascinating exploration of modern manhood and think deep about what drives us and makes us happy in the modern world.
Tom Vaughan MacAulay was born in Chester in 1980. Tom is a solicitor and has worked both in London and Milan during his career. He currently lives in North London and is in the process of completing his second novel.
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