Ireland is bankrupt and the IMF team headed by Ajai Chopra has flown to the country to negotiate the terms of the bailout. Amongst their number is an Irish-American who is a more than a little bemused by his ancestors approach to finance and public service. He is given the task of shadowing the head of the Department of Finance, Dermot Mulhearn, during the negotiations and is then left in place to monitor progress when the rest of the IMF team leave town. Mulhearn’s priority seems to be to maintain a certain kind of lifestyle for the civil service and to protect his various perks and assets such as investments in apartments, hotels and a room full of voting machines, rather than to broker the best deal he can for the country. The politicians on the other hand seem totally clueless, dancing the last waltz as the walls come crumbling down around them. Instead it is left to the Eighty Five Billion Euro Man from the IMF to go through the books and to try and get civil servants and politicians used to the high life to change their ways. Mulhearn and his cronies however have a touch of the Sir Humphries about them and they’re not about to simply lie down and roll over.
Based on the @IMFDublinDiary Twitter feed and stories in The Mire, The Eighty Five Billion Euro Man is a satire/farce, starting with the IMF’s first visit to Dublin and ending just a few weeks after Enda Kenny took office as Taoiseach. It covers a whole range of different events and parodies both the civil service and leading politicians. The story is told mainly through dialogue heavy scenes that work well to capture some of the absurdities, ironies and tragedies of the bailout and subsequent political shenanigans. There is a lot to like about the novel. Some of the scenes are very amusing and the caricatures of some politicians are particularly well done, for example, Brian Cowen, Mary Coughlan, Brian Lenihan, Michael Noonan and Joan Burton. However, the plot is a little uneven, with the tail end of the book, in the lead up to the election and afterwards, notably weaker (partially because it starts to stray too far from the situation it seeks to satirise – especially Mulhearn running for election). The level of satire also varies a little and whilst it is very amusing at times it’s never quite as biting or cutting as it could be, and it doesn’t have the sophisticated wit and cleverness of a political satire like Yes, Minister. Given the in-jokes, I’m also not sure how easy it would be for someone unfamiliar with Ireland to follow some of the scenes. That all said, The Eighty Five Billion Euro Man is a recommended read for anyone who is interested in the crash in Ireland and the government response. It’s an amusing read and provides a counterpoint to the dry journalistic accounts that have dominated the shelves to date.