Moral Hazard, by Kate Jennings

Reviewed by Alex Marshall

This is a novel that sneaks up on you. The narrator is a freelance journalist who takes up a position as a speechwriter for a large banking organisation in order to afford the medical costs for her ill husband.

She hates her job, she hates the people she works for, believing that they are all parasites, and that nothing that she writes as a speechwriter has the least significance whatsoever. She has no life outside of of work, spending all of her free time caring for her husband, dying slowly from alzheimers disease. In short, she is in hell.

So what is the moral hazard of the novel’s title? It is the fear that pervades this book that the heroine of the story will become somehow complicit in this world that she hates, that she will somehow become a creature of this world, and lose her dignity as a human being.

She herself is not a particularly likable character. She has a kind of small ‘l’ liberal complaint against capitalism, while at the same time she is fixated by its apparent power, that appears in this novel almost omnipotent. She claims to be a radical, to have a knowledge of Marxism, yet she has been ground down by life, by her duty as a wife and as a citizen. Her closest friend, a colleague at work, she considers to be a terrible hypocrite, railing against the system while at the same time becoming very rich from its spoils.

It is this bitterness that gives the novel its authentic voice. It also gives the heroine’s character a taste of defeat for a life that in many other ways is full of strength and resilience.

Moral Hazard, by Kate Jennings
Picador Australia, 2003

Alex Marshall is a freelance writer and reviewer. You can visit his webpage here.