Never Never by David Gaffney certainly falls into this camp with its timely tale of overindebted debt counsellor Eric McFarlane.
The twist is that Gaffney spent 10 years working as a debt adviser in one of the roughest areas of Manchester – Moss Side. The blurb on the dust jacket of the book claims that Gaffney now works for a “shadowy government organisation”. The mind boggles at what that might mean.
But his main subject here is our overindebted culture whereby everyone owes somebody something and spending until you get into debt is a way of life.
The story is based in Cleator Moor in West Cumbria, where Gaffney himself grew up. His character Eric works in the church hall at the Cleator Moor Money Advice Shop. Each day Eric deals with desperate consumers who have spent their way to a mountain of debt.
For example, one of his clients we’re introduced to early on has recently separated from her rich husband. Unfortunately, the split didn’t affect her spending habits and despite the fact she’s had to move to a rough part of town she has managed to accumulate a debt of £120,000 keeping up with the Joneses.
But the dramatic surprise is that Eric, who spends his days helping others get out of trouble, has racked up as much debt as his clients.
He’s got a £90,000 mortgage and clocks up an unfeasible amount of debt buying gifts to keep his wife happy.
As a financial professional he knows all the tricks in the book but that doesn’t mean he’s any better at controlling his spending than his clients.
The message of the book, rammed home hard by Gaffney, is that anyone can get themselves into a mess regardless of their education or social background.
The book gathers pace with Eric being hounded by his bank manager and eventually turning to a loan shark – a big risk when the availability of sub-prime finance falters as it is doing at the moment. But Eric hasn’t learnt his lesson and continues to believe that spending is the only way to live.
“We owe everyone, always, all the time,” he says. “We owe the world and we owe it to ourselves. It is our job, our duty, our right to borrow, default, fall into arrears. Who wants to die with money in the bank?”
Countless brokers will have dealt with clients who have a similar outlook.
But how do individuals learn their lesson? At a recent industry dinner one debt professional complained that the government’s strategy for tackling the current crisis is merely dealing with the symptoms rather than the disease.
Instead, they want the government to increase the interest rate to 14%, giving everyone a year of hell but teaching them the valuable lesson of not relying on debt.
Obviously, this would be a pretty horrific approach – you can moan about the government for many things but at least it doesn’t take a cavalier approach towards overstretched borrowers.
But debt has been a global problem and it’s important that individuals are educated about its dangers.
It keeps the economy afloat but the ramifications for those caught in a debt spiral are terrifying, as Never Never demonstrates only too well.