The cut-throat world of New York's super-rich

<strong>HEDGE FUND WIVES</strong><br />BY TATIANA BONCOMPAGNI<br /><strong>Harper Collins, &pound;6.99</strong><br /><br />IT may sound a little out of date &ndash; after all, we&rsquo;re so over hedgies and their failed fortunes. Except the New York hedge fund world, including its cut-throat circle of wives, still holds more interest than you&rsquo;d think. This is not the first tale of high finance wives or recessionistas to come out of New York, but it is surprisingly absorbing &ndash; the jaw-dropping spending habits of the financial elite never cease to amaze, even when those days are gone. I can&rsquo;t see a British author ever conceiving of a baby shower with the invitations hand-delivered by white-clad courier and a Hermes scarf to accentuate the party&rsquo;s Rue de Faubourg theme &ndash; said party offering goody bags with diamonds and day spa passes worth four figures &ndash; as happens here.<br /><br />What further ingratiates this potentially crude, out of date book is a narrator with a heart &ndash; Marcy from Chicago (Hicksville in comparison to New York) finds settling in among the other hedge fund wives a daunting process. She is still human enough to balk when the hostess of a party won&rsquo;t shake her hand (&ldquo;she doesn&rsquo;t shake!&rdquo; whispers the woman introducing them) and to marvel at one woman&rsquo;s brilliant categorisation of hedge fund wives &ndash; from the blue blood, pedigree &ldquo;Westminster&rdquo; to the spoiled knockout &ldquo;Stephanie&rdquo;. When Marcy&rsquo;s husband &ndash; one of the few that happen not to be affected by the economic nose-dive &ndash; starts an affair with a New York blonde, she has an epiphany and realises that life&rsquo;s not all about money.<br /><br />Tatiana Boncompagni is just the woman to write such a book. A journalist well-schooled in retelling high-life snapshots for Vogue and The New York Times, she is also married to the vacuum cleaner heir Maximilian Hoover and moves in the circles she&rsquo;s writing about. Anyone who liked The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and The City will like this.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Zoe Strimpel<br /> <br /><strong>OF BEES AND MIST</strong><br />BY ERICK SETIAWAN<br /><strong>Headline, &pound;19.99<br /><br /></strong>THIS is Erick Setiawan&rsquo;s first novel but there&rsquo;s nothing amateurish about it. Perhaps that&rsquo;s to do with his worldly background: born in Jakarta in 1975, he moved to the US at 16 to learn English, and wound up at Stanford. Perhaps it was learning the language from scratch that has made his writing so expressive and squeaky clean. He was inspired, though, to write this oddly named book by the legends and tales that swirled among the women in his family &ndash; a mixture of traditional Chinese values and Indonesian lore.<br /><br />The result is a book of gothic-meets-magical realism &ndash; &ldquo;The fortune-teller, backed by his crystal globe, swore that Eva&rsquo;s eyes did not turn pitiless until Meridia drenched in goose blood three months later,&rdquo; the story begins. Read on to learn how Meridia has grown up in a dark, cold house at the top of a hill, where her father disappears into the mist each evening and where her reclusive mother Ravenna haunts the kitchen with the scent of verbena, talking an incomprehensible language. Only once she&rsquo;s grown up does she realise that her home is not like everybody else&rsquo;s.<br /><br />Once she falls in love with Daniel it seems as though a normal and welcoming family could finally be her lot. But of course all is not as it seems &ndash; Daniel&rsquo;s mother Eva is not who Meridia assumed she was and the two become locked in a battle of wills. Eva uses an army of bees to attack Meridia and does her best to undermine her and Daniel&rsquo;s marriage &ndash; in the end Meridia is battling for nothing short of her marriage, life and peace of mind. This is the ultimate family drama and paints the worst possible picture of the dreaded mother-in-law figure. But its magical quality lends grace and intrigue to what could easily be a sordid soap opera. A really impressive first novel.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; ZS<br /><br /><strong>THE LITTLE BOOK OF BIG EXPENSES</strong><br />BY VARIOUS<br /><strong>Price: &pound;6.99</strong><br /><br />SILLY season may be well and truly upon us now, but 2009 will be remembered as the year when the major political story also had its fair share of silliness. Before MPs&rsquo; expenses were made public, few people had heard of such exotic items as duck islands and most were unaware that anybody outside of Arthurian tales actually had homes surrounded by moats.<br /><br />Obviously, the targets that the authors of this slim book have chosen are easy to hit (sitting ducks, you might say) but this book will undoubtedly cause chuckles to emanate from the country&rsquo;s bathrooms for years to come.<br /><br />The expenses scandal of 2009 has added numerous phrases to the nation&rsquo;s vocabulary, including most notoriously the practice of &ldquo;flipping&rdquo; the designation of your second home in order to claim the costs of redecorating one and then doing the same on another.<br /><br />It is also worth recalling Margaret Moran, whose work in London and East Anglia required her to have a taxpayer-funded home in Southampton (she&rsquo;s still on sick leave, by the way, as I write this); that David Willetts, the shadow Secretary for &ndash; among other things &ndash; skills, charged workmen (ie taxpayers) &pound;135 to change lightbulbs in his home. It&rsquo;s also entertaining to learn that one parliamentary aide demanded money for &ldquo;lots of booze&rdquo; so that the 2005 election would slip by in an &ldquo;alcoholic blur&rdquo;. Best of all, perhaps, was the revelation that Labour &ldquo;hardman&rdquo; John Reid has a glittery toilet seat and that Derek Conway paid his son Henry (&ldquo;blond, bouncy and one of the boys&rdquo;, in his own description) tens of thousands to do very little.<br /><br />Of course, it&rsquo;s all a great deal of fun. Unless you are an MP &ndash; especially one in a marginal constituency. In such places, this is not so much a bit of fun as a lump of dynamite.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Jeremy Hazlehurst<br />