Thursday, 8 October 2020

Mr Keynes' Revolution, by E J Barnes

I have just finished reading this book, which is a novel about the influential economist  J Maynard Keynes. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am only sorry it came to an end when it did - I gather there will be a sequel, and I'll certainly be buying that. 

Keynes was a member of the Bloomsbury Group - Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell, Bunny Garnett, Duncan Grant and co. Known for their interesting private lives as well as for their writing and painting, they have often been the subject of films and TV programmes. Keynes was a central figure - and financially a godsend to the others, but he is a fairly shadowy figure in accounts of the group. This is surprising when, as this book does, you look at his life. He was a hugely influential economist, but he too had a colourful private life. He was happily gay until, all of a sudden, he watched a Russian ballerina dancing across the stage as the Lilac Fairy - and suddenly, he was not. Despite practical obstacles (Lydia turned out to be already married, although, fortunately, to a bigamist) and the opposition of some of his friends, he married her - and the marriage, on the evidence of this book, looks like being a happy one.

I don't know anything about economics, but the author doesn't shy away from the subject, and clearly explains the issues with which Keynes grappled. (In her note at the end of the book, she reveals that she studied economics at Cambridge, so that's perhaps not surprising.) But she also makes him come alive as a man, revealing his intelligence, his directness, his loyalty to his friends, and his charisma. Lydia, too is brought to life: practical, down-to-earth, warm, funny. There are a whole array of other characters who also tread the boards, and I look forward to meeting them again in the next volume.

Recommended for people who, like myself, enjoy Jane Thynne's books, which are set in the next decade in Germany - and for anyone with an interest in the Bloomsbury Group, in economics, or generally in that period between the wars which, with hindsight, seems full of doomed gaiety.

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