Soon after reading The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus, I checked online for a novel with a similar theme and/or plot. I found none. My initial conclusion is that a new genre has been created by Adam Leigh; Fictional Business Memoir. Using language that would not be out of place in either The Financial Times or be out of place in Tony Parsons’ Man and Boy, The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus, explores the human drive for pursuit and ambition in a capitalistic 21st-century entrepreneurial landscape. All of this is done with a good dose of humour, devoid of a condescending tone and a total absence of verbose.
There is an ordinariness that permeates The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus. This ordinariness works out quite well. It makes it very relatable. At one turn it feels like you are reading about one of those narcissistic American tech founders and in the very next turn, you recognise several of the Nigerian fintech founders whose excesses and hubris have gone viral on social media in recent months. You can even recognize colleagues in one or more of the many colourful characters in this book. In keeping with the ordinariness of the plot, it makes sense that the two main characters; Alex and Julian met in the most ordinary of circumstances – while watching over their toddlers on the playground.
Alex has had the itch to pursue an entrepreneurial venture for a while. He finally takes the plunge when he meets a willing partner in Julian. They both strike up a partnership and set up a parenting website. The company ends up growing bigger than the founders ever imagined. The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus covers the full gambit of the startup ecosystem; the fundraising, selling hope and expectations, the toll it takes on familial relationships and the tensions that make or break partnerships. While all of these are in the fore, what gives the book its relative depth is the philosophical question that goes on in the background – what exactly is ambition? How far should one go in pursuit of it? Are the trade-offs worth it? In the midst of all the funny jokes and everyday plots, there are serious issues that the narration tries to grapple with in the book.
The structure of The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus is excellent. It starts from the present where the company has imploded and takes a reflective view of the years that led up to the present. It unfolds the present from the past. Adam Leigh is an exciting storyteller. More of a storyteller than a writer (and that is not a slight at all). I found myself yearning for Alex to take the money and run before he got eaten up by the sharks, while also rolling my eyes at Julian’s solipsistic tendencies. Characters are as real as we know and see in our everyday working lives.