Anna Premoli shares an extract from her book You Drive Me Crazy, set in South Korea.
If A Day Starts Off Bad, Rest Assured It’s Only Going to Get Worse
It’s pouring down, just for a change.
Not that it rains all the time in London. I mean, come on – it’s not Scotland.
It rains just the right amount. Which, objectively speaking, is quite a lot at the moment.
Ok, I give up – in early August it pours down every bloody day…
I really ought to stop wasting time staring at the water streaming down my windows, though, and get a move on – that nice watch that my parents gave me a few years ago when I got my degree is telling me mercilessly that I’m already way behind with my daily schedule, and from down the hall I can hear the threatening sound of the phone ringing.
At this time of the morning it can only be my mother, so fat chance that I’m going to answer – never start your day by letting your mum hassle you. A day that starts off like that can only get worse. My mother has spent her whole life being a housewife while dreaming about having a career. So why did she never get a job, then? you’ll be asking yourself. Don’t ask me. All I know is that she’s always been convinced that working her only daughter to death was a better idea than actually working herself – with obvious repercussions on my life. She calls me every day in the office to ask exactly the same question: “What are you doing, darling?” And every day, I reply, “I’m at work, Mum.”
She likes that phrase, it makes her feel proud.
The truth is that I’ve never been a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, and she’s never wanted to accept the fact. She still thinks she’s some bloody suffragette from the beginning of the twentieth century.
The only reason I ended up agreeing to study economics at university was for a quiet life, because Mum wanted me to work in a big investment bank. The only thing I liked about the women who worked in those places was their nice suits. I’ve always been very honest – at least with myself – and the truth is that I’ve never really had the willpower or desire to make my way in life or any of that kind of stuff.
But destiny would have it that, thanks to an incredible series of coincidences and bits of luck, I actually did end up working for an investment bank – which still seems weird, even all these years later. I remember that when I was at junior school, in a composition titled ‘What I Want To Do When I Grow Up’, I wrote that I wanted to be a seamstress. I loved being able to make clothes out of practically nothing and thought that actually creating something gave life meaning. Ah, the illusions of childhood! Well nowadays I don’t create anything – in fact, I often feel like I’m destroying things. That’s why I’m not entirely convinced about my job.
I only passed the entrance exam at the Economics Faculty because I managed to spot a brainy looking girl in the crowd, clung tightly to her and somehow managed to copy enough of her answers. The questions might as well have been in Farsi, as far as I was concerned. In my defence, I can only say that identifying the right swot to copy is an art that has never been given the recognition it deserves.
Jane not only helped me pass the exam, she also became a good friend, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. Two rather introverted girls who don’t really want to be noticed – that’s why we bonded immediately. She works at Goldman Sachs now (she was a genius then and she’s still a genius), but she helps me out when she can. If I managed to get myself into a prestigious investment bank, I owe it all to her: after uni, she spent a month helping me prepare for the selections. I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason I worked so hard to get in was so as not to disappoint her. Well, not to mention that if I hadn’t, my mother would have killed me. Literally.
I’m part of the team that takes care of foreign mergers and acquisitions. Ten people, completely dedicated to their job. Or rather, nine of them are – I just pretend to be. But I’m really good at pretending. As far as I can tell, no one has yet had any doubts as to why I’m there.
The main problem with my job, apart from the fact that it involves the study of budgets and taxation (yawn) is our ridiculously long working day: we start pretty early, which is standard practice in these places, but in particularly busy periods we practically forget to go home. To carve myself out a couple of hours to do a bit of shopping I sometimes have to fake some sort of ailment, a really bad tummy ache or a headache of unprecedented violence. My colleagues are generally so wrapped up in their work that they don’t even notice I’m not there. It’s absolutely unimaginable that someone would actually want to get away from the office. I have a sneaking feeling that they’d come to work for free, while I can barely force myself to go even with the (admittedly decent) salary they pay me. And there are times when not even the pay is enough to cheer me up.
Once, during one of my little jaunts to the shops, I bumped into Theresa from the commodity derivatives office and we exchanged a complicit smile.
Since then, every time we meet in the lift we give each other a look. Discovering that I wasn’t the only one skiving off was reassuring, and I started feeling less guilty about it.
What girl doesn’t dream of an amazing promotion working on the other side of the world?
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is presented to 28-year-old investment banker, Maddison Johnson and instantly fills her with abject fear. It isn’t the New York transfer she had set her heart on… she’s going to South Korea, instead. To make things worse, her boss Mark Kim doesn’t go out of his way to make it easy for her to adapt to her new environment.
Plunged into a world she knows nothing about with a man she can’t stand, Maddison finds herself forced to adapt and grow up quickly. Maybe in the process she will stumble over something wonderful and quite unexpected…
Anna Premoli is a bestselling author in Italy. She began writing to relieve stress while working as a financial consultant for a private bank. Her previous novel, Love to Hate You, won the Bancarella prize in 2013.