This book was a Christmas gift from my stepfather, who became mildly obsessed after watching the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie and went on a mission to read everything Deborah Moggach had written. Of all the books he tried, this sounded the most intriguing and it was nice to finally get around to reading it.
The book follows Natalie, a bored employee of the NuLine Telecommunications company, who spends her days processing bill payments and answering customers' telephone calls. Her relationship is on its last legs, she has no close friends and her job is dull and perfunctory, but Natalie craves the good things in life and manages to work out a clever scheme to get them. Some of the cheques she processes at work are made out to NT, rather than the full company name of NuLine Telecommunications. If only Natalie's surname began with a T she could alter those cheques and pay them into her own account, processing the bills as paid, and nobody would ever know. All she needs to do is find herself a husband whose surname begins with a T.
Natalie sees her crime as victimless; she is robbing from a faceless corporation and it's only what she deserves anyway as a loyal employee. As for the unsuspecting husband she ensnares... well, she's good to him, and there's no reason why he should ever know that she never really loved him. And yet Natalie's crime does have consequences, though she could never have guessed what they might be. This is a dark and twisting story about the ways in which our actions can affect others, perhaps people we don't even know.
Natalie is a thoroughly unlikeable heroine, and we just know something terrible is about to happen, which gives the book a wonderfully oppressive feel. Our sympathies lie with Natalie's poor chump of a husband, who can't believe his luck when such a pretty girl appears to fall for him, and it's heartbreaking to watch him duped and taken advantage of. The characters in Final Demand are all cleverly written and feel like real people we could meet in our everyday lives. I don't want to say too much about the plot, but there is a family we are introduced to later in the book that is portrayed just exquisitely. They love each other, but hardly show it, and it's achingly sad to read about the things they don't say to each other, choosing instead to complain and bicker.
There's a touch of the Muriel Spark about Final Demand which is hard to define, but it put me in mind of the darker Spark novels I have read, like The Driver's Seat or The Public Image. Perhaps it's simply the way the author manages to say so much in so few words - though this is a short novel I felt as though I had been through quite an experience with these characters. Deborah Moggach is an incredible author and I can see now why my stepfather is such a fan. Five stars.