Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Opening Belle

Summary: Maureen Sherry’s funny insider novel about a female Wall Street executive also trying to be a mother and a wife is a “compulsively readable…cheeky—and at times, romantic—battle-cry for any woman who’s ever strived to have it all and been told by a man that she couldn’t” (Entertainment Weekly).

It’s 2008 and Isabelle, a thirty-something Wall Street executive, appears to have it all: the sprawling Upper West Side apartment; three healthy children; a handsome husband; and a job as managing director at a large investment bank. But her reality is something else. Her work environment resembles a frat party, her husband feels employment is beneath him, and the bulk of childcare logistics still fall in Belle’s already crowded lap.

Enter Henry, the former college fiancé she never quite got over; now a hedge fund mogul. He becomes her largest client, and Belle gets to see the life she might have had with him. While Henry campaigns to win Belle back, the sexually harassed women in her office take action to improve their working conditions, and recruit a wary Belle into a secret “glass ceiling club” whose goal is to mellow the cowboy banking culture and get equal pay for their work. All along, Belle can sense the financial markets heading toward their soon-to-be historic crash and that something has to give—and when it does, everything is going to change: her marriage, her career, her bank statement, and her colleagues’ frat boy behavior.

Optioned by Reese Witherspoon who called it “smart, biting, and honest,” Opening Belle is “funny, relevant, and often shocking….Even if your own life is far from a fairy tale, it will allow you to laugh, learn, and maybe even lean in—to hug your own family a little closer.” (The Washington Post). -- Simon & Schuster

I like what's known as "insider books" -- books that give an inside view into a certain occupation or organization, and that's probably why OPENING BELLE by Maureen Sherry appealed to me. This novel was written by a one time female executive on Wall Street, and it tells the story of a woman trying to have it all in a man's world. Many (many) years ago, I was a finance major in college and very interested in stories about careers on Wall Street. I was hoping that this book would be nice and juicy! And it was... but it was also surprisingly (to me!) deep.

OPENING BELLE tells the story of Isabelle, a 30-something mother of three and a Wall Street executive. She lives in a big Upper West Side apartment with a handsome husband, and she has a job which brings in a lot of money. It might seem like she has it all; however, her husband is a bit of a bum and her office basically consists of a bunch of frat boys. As any working mom can relate, Belle is struggling to do a good job at work while also maintaining a sense of normalcy in her house.

Belle's life isn't easy to begin with and then things get really interesting when Belle's ex fiance Henry shows up. He is a hedge fun mogul, and his job causes him to work very closely with Belle. Belle has never truly gotten over Henry and especially the way they broke up, so when Henry tries to woo Belle back, she begins to have doubts about her current situation. Meanwhile, the women in Belle's office decide to take matters into their own hands when it comes to the "good old boy" network; and Belle senses impending doom with the markets! Belle's life is pretty much on an insane crash course, and Belle has to make some choices if she wants to save herself!

I found OPENING BELLE to be terrific! I loved getting an insider's view into Wall Street and corporate finance in the mid 2000s, but I also loved getting a look at Belle's life. The world Ms. Sherry described wasn't too far from what I had imagined (or read about), and I did find the juicy details to be extremely interesting. However, OPENING BELLE was so much more than just a scandalous tell-all book about Wall Street. It actually was a deep look at a conflicted woman who tried to have it all... like so many working moms out there.

I am so glad that Ms. Sherry has stepped away from Wall Street to become a author. She definitely told a great story and has some major skills as a writer. I loved Belle and I think many women will relate to her struggles... and her perseverance. I found OPENING BELLE to be highly readable, and I didn't want to put it down. I think that's a testament to Ms. Sherry's writing style and character development.

I actually really appreciated that the novel was written in Belle's voice. Belle's insights (and therefore Ms. Sherry's insights) were so wise and, at times, very funny. I have a feeling that some of Belle's stories might have been versions of ones that Ms. Sherry experienced. I also loved that Belle was such a complex character. She was far from perfect, but she always tried to do her best at everything. I thought the author did a good job in developing the relationships in her life including ones with her husband, Henry, and even the women she worked with.

I think OPENING BELLE would make a fun book club selection. I was happy to find a link to discussion questions on the author's website. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include working moms, sexism, parenting, marriage, adultery, harassment, wealth, second chances, equal pay to name just a few. I know women my age will want to discuss Belle and her choices as well as the way she interacted with others.

Overall, OPENING BELLE was a very good read. I loved the juicy gossip of Wall Street, but I loved even more the character of Belle and how she was portrayed. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I like it when books like this are written by someone "in the know." I imagine a life on Wall Street is pretty intense. This sounds very good!