Alan Bollard - novelist

by Toby Manhire / 19 December, 2012
NZ's former Reserve Bank governor was “struggling through the Global Financial Crisis by day, and novel-writing by night”.
The book, a novel, is called The Rough Mechanical: The Man Who Could. Its author is Alan Bollard.

Yes, that Alan Bollard – the former Reserve Bank governor and soon-to-be chief of the APEC secretariat.

Strangely (unless it’s some elaborate prank I’m falling for), this work has attracted almost no publicity in New Zealand – with the exception of this post on the blog of Stephen Franks, the lawyer and former ACT MP, and a follow-up by Bookman Beattie.

The Amazon blurb for the book – available only in electronic form, it seems – says Bollard “wrote this novel while he was Governor of The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, struggling through the Global Financial Crisis by day, and novel-writing by night”.

The synopsis:

It is wartime. Adam has been shot down on a bombing raid and incarcerated. He may be a quiet and unassuming man, but he is a technical wizard and he isn’t going to let the barbed wire hold him back. After liberation, he and his crew find themselves caught up in the early days of the Cold War: hunting Nazi sympathisers, confronting threatening Soviet forces, enjoying seedy Berlin night clubs, and meeting a mysterious German woman.

Back in London, Adam and his new bride May try to rebuild their lives after war. But it is grey and cold, and life is rationed. However Adam has some very big ideas, and they take him through crises in Whitehall, a rocky marriage, a return to Berlin, and an evolving spy drama.

The self-published work is not quite setting the Amazon Kindle Store alight yet, however, sitting at the time of writing at 192,159th most purchased title.

Former Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard
Bollard, pic Marty Melville

But Franks likes it. He writes:

It is a curious work – essentially a fictionalised introduction to the heroic period of economics, when Hayek, Kaldor, Keynes, Galbraith and other giants were doing the work that would turn them into “isms” contending with the older and more malign darling of the intellectuals – Marxism.

The hero is a New Zealander, the thinly reconstructed William Phillips, definer of the Phillips curve. The book grew on me, becoming more interesting as it got further into the interaction of economists, politicians, officials, military and spooks in the uncertain and dangerous days after WW2, as Stalinist agression ramped up. But it scoots over such vast territory that I was reminded of Classics Illustrated, the comix that helped baby boomers to pretend to having read the world's literary classics ...

Although he has his reservations:

I'm not sure why he seems to dumb down some stereotypical characters (RAF pilot toffs and crusty mechanics, spooks with eyes set too close together and bad breath, a beautiful East German spy). The emotional tension devices are not subtle (would the East German spy seduce the hero away from his dutiful wife and was she loyal despite Phillips' provocations?). Perhaps it is just the fun of experimenting with spoof. Perhaps it is to masquerade in a genre that disguises the underlying tour of economists. Perhaps it is aimed at young people who need to have Punch and Judy clearly labelled in a setting that is now remote to them.

Whatever the reasons it makes this puzzling, but for those who know Alan, all the more intriguing.

Intriguing is right.
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