Reviews roundup: Meet Me in the Bathroom; Eureka; What We Lose

The Strokes – New York’s finest – in January 2006.
 The Strokes – New York’s finest – in January 2006. Photograph: Stephen Lovekin/WireImage

“Every scene needs a chronicler like Lizzy Goodman,” was Jim Carroll’s wholehearted recommendation, in the Irish Times, of Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011. The book is “a meaty oral history”, “a wild read” and “strikes all the right notes. As oral histories go, this is one of the very best.” In the Observer, former music journalist Barbara Ellen admired Goodman’s ability “to marshal a veritable army of interviewees who’re not only prepared to talk, but also to gossip, muse, digress, ramble, even bitch and fume, to build the most accurate picture”, making the book “beautifully paced, vivid, informative and compelling”. For the Sunday Times’s Lise Verrico, it was exhaustive at more than 600 pages, and “full of colourful characters, catty comments and incredible candour”.

Anthony Quinn’s novel Eureka also looks back at a swinging time, in this case London in the 1960s, with characters including acid casualty screenwriter Nat Fane. It is part three of a “loosely linked and hugely enjoyable trilogy”, explained Peter Stanford in the Observer, but “works just as well as a standalone”. Stanford found mysteries, wit and entertainment aplenty, but reassured readers: “If Eurekais beginning to sound too clever by half, rather like a 60s counterculture film, what brings it all delightfully together is Quinn’s flawless, easy-going prose. He never once puts a foot wrong either in the wealth of period detail or in giving each well-drawn character their distinctive voice. Clever, certainly, but in just the right measure.” The Mail on Sunday’s Hephzibah Anderson described it as a “pleasingly melancholic romp [which] gallivants towards a dark mystery”, and the Times’s Siobhain Murphy decided that “Quinn’s immersive approach to his historical fiction means we’re soon woozy with the sounds and sights of that significant year”. Not the Daily Mail’s John Harding, though. “[The 60s] are unconvincingly evoked here, with pop music limited to the Beatles and references to Mr Fish fashion and hula hoops feeling tacked on,” he wrote. “The book is padded out with excerpts from Nat’s film script. Let’s hope it never gets made – it’s as flimsy as a go-go dancer’s miniskirt.”

Critics were also divided over the debut novel by Zinzi Clemmons, What We Lose, about a light-skinned black woman living in the US. “Luminescent,” raved Lucy Scholes in the Independent. “Sometimes fierce and angry, other times quiet and tender, it’s a story about identity organised around [a] central, momentous loss – that of a parent – that expands and contracts, as with the beating of a heart, to encompass meditations on race, sex and love … Intelligently and impressively conceived, and beautifully told.” “A memoir trying hard to pass itself off as fiction,” complained Claire Allfree in the Daily Mail. “Clemmons, who shares a lot of biography with her narrator, has a bracingly clear-eyed view on racial politics and the psychological dissonance of living between two cultures, and the tension between her steady prose and turbulent emotions is beautifully sustained. Yet I found it frustrating … Clemmons has yet to make this territory her own.” But the Sunday Times’s Phil Baker was impressed, on balance, finding that “sometimes the result feels like a struggle between grief and pretentiousness, but the frankness and intelligence of the writing win out”.


China’s traditional banks lose branding ground to internet rivals

Story image for Traditional from Financial Times

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Bank branding was once non-existent in China; now it is growing rapidly © Bloomberg Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) 0 Save 8 HOURS AGO by: Don Weinland In the early 1980s, people in China had a one-stop shop for all their banking needs: the People’s Bank of China. It was, in fact, the only bank in China at the time, as well as the central bank. During the early years of economic reform in the country, citizens, government-owned enterprises and the first green shoots of private business had little choice about who to bank with. Marketing and branding for the state monopoly was virtually nonexistent. More than three decades later, branding for banks in China has taken on new urgency. The banking sector has opened up, adding thousands of new institutions. Choice has proliferated for consumers. Speed, efficiency and convenience in financial services has fashioned new household names, mainly for the internet companies that have experimented in finance. Meanwhile, the brands of powerful state banks are in an early stage of decline. “Beyond the bank’s traditional image, another important thing is convenience,” says Yang Cao, chief operating officer at Yirendai, one of China’s largest peer-to-peer lenders and one of the institutions competing head on with banks. “Younger consumers value convenience a lot. They will look at how convenient your mobile app looks and they pick the bank because of that.” The 2017 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking shows China’s top four state-owned banks losing ground in 2017. Bank of China, the oldest and most international of the four, tumbled 23 rankings to 94th, while Agricultural Bank of China fell 10 places to 72nd. China Construction Bank fared slightly better, losing eight positions to 54. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, one of the world’s largest banks by market capitalisation, fell one place to 28th, retaining its position over global competitors such as Citi, JPMorgan and ANZ. The four Chinese banks did not respond to requests to comment on the fall in ranking. By comparison, Tencent, an internet group that launched one of China’s first privately owned banks in 2014, is ranked eighth in global brand recognition, climbing three places in 2017 and trumping the likes of IBM. Alibaba, an ecommerce company that now runs the world’s largest money market fund, rose four places to 14th. Banks are late to the branding game because they have focused mainly on servicing state-owned companies, experts say, often ignoring the rapidly building wealth of Chinese people around them. In sharp contrast, companies such as Tencent and Alibaba founded their businesses on directly serving customers over the internet and have been much more in touch with the financial needs of ordinary people. Alibaba, for example, founded Alipay, an online payment service, in 2004. State companies such as China UnionPay followed that lead more than a decade later in December 2015. Alibaba’s Yu’e Bao became the world’s largest money market fund in March when its assets under management hit $165bn, a testament to how non-financial companies have enjoyed the same trust as banks.