‘Something weird is happening in the last vacant lot on Privilege Bay’: An Extract from Joseph O’Neill’s ‘The Dog’

• Apr 27, 2015 • Tags: , , , , ,

This month we’ve been discussing the theme of Power on the blog. What better way to finish than with an extract from one of the most caustic satires of Power we’ve published in recent years, Joseph O’Neill’s Man Booker longlisted ‘The Dog’…

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‘There are plenty of high-rises here in the Marina district, but for valuation purposes the owners of apartments at The Situation – the Uncompromising Few, as TheSituation.com names us – need be concerned with only two comparators: The Aspiration, inhabited by the Dreamers of New Dreams, and The Statement, home of the Pioneers of Luxury™. We are all each other’s Joneses. Because by design we exclusively occupy Privilege Bay – an elite creek or inlet of the planet’s largest man-made lagoon – and, more important, because all three residential propositions have agreed on an Excellence Ethos (the tenets of which are published on our respective websites), our troika competes internally for the favour of an ultra-discerning micro-market of property investors – those who wish to reach The Far Side of Aspiration, in the terminology of TheAspiration.com. In principle, we three residential propo­sitions proceed consultatively. In practice, it is like the three-way shoot-out in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and each will do whatever it takes to gain an advantage for itself, and each reacts like lightning to the slightest move made by another. When the cardio machines in the gym at The Aspiration were upgraded, those in The Situation and The Statement were at once replaced or renewed; same story when The Situation unilaterally began to offer complimentary sparkling water to visitors waiting in the lobby, and when The Statement without warning piped therapeutic aromas into its reception area. There is increasingly good if unexpected evidence that our rivalry has in effect been collaborative, in that it has functioned as a joining of forces against the great, strange waves that have attacked the Dubai property market. True, we have taken a massive hit, or haircut; but we float on. In our respective determination to not be outdone by the other two, we have, almost accidentally-on-purpose, cooperatively kept high our standards and morale and built up the frail composite brand conjured and encapsulated by the collective name we have given ourselves: the Privileged Three. I think of this brand as our little lifeboat. I think also of the bittersweet song I learned as a child from my mother:

Il était un petit navire

Qui n’avait ja-ja-jamais navigué.

That is, it may be that the same-boat strategy is no longer a good one. Soon, it may be every man for himself and dog-eat-dog and the horror of the Medusa.

Why? Because something weird is happening in the last vacant lot on Privilege Bay. This is the lot formerly dedicated to the Astrominium, which was destined to be the world’s tallest resi­dential building (at just over half a kilometre) and to offer the Ultimate Height of Luxury to the Ultimate Demographic. The Situation and The Statement and The Aspiration were developed with the Astrominium very much in mind. Those of us who acquired apartments in the Privileged Three did so on the footing (reflected in the purchase price) that we would in due course live next door to the Astrominium and that our residential propo­sitions would draw value and kudos and identity from our huge neighbour even as they kowtowed to it.

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Then – the crise financière. Soon after, the Astrominium site gave us the spectacle of the world’s largest man-made hole in the ground, its colossal dimensions made vivid by the aban­doned orange digger at the bottom of the chasm. I spent many hours looking at this digger from my apartment window, my mind turning always to the idea of a lost lobster. A few months ago, the digger disappeared; and a very peculiar thing occurred. If I happen to look out my window – if ‘window’ is the best noun for the immense glass wall that comprises the exterior perimeter of my apartment – I can see a new concrete platform on the sand, and on the platform there has risen a small concrete structure, about the size of a cottage, consisting of a concrete X that leans onto a cuboid concrete frame. Is it a sculpture? A monument? Is it the first part of an Astrominium-like edifice? More work apparently lies in store, because there’s a bulldozer on site and a large pile of black dirt partially covered by tarpaulin. There’s also a portable toilet. The indistinctness of what’s going on is only deepened by the activity I’ve seen down there. Basically, from time to time a dozen management types in suits and dishdashas stand around and have a grinning conversation. Not one of them pays any attention to the struc­ture. Then they leave. I keep waiting for construction crews to come in and take the project – which I have called Project X – forward to the next stage; it never happens. The structure remains inscrutable as Stonehenge. Nor is www.Astrominium.com any help: all we get is the assertion, by now more than two years old, that the ‘building’ of a ‘building’ will ‘soon’ be under way. This doesn’t sound even linguistically right. It is unclear to me how the creation of a residential proposition suitable for Privilege Bay can be described as ‘building’ a ‘building’.

I’ve got to find out what’s going on. If the Astrominium plot isn’t developed soon, and in accordance with the Excellence Ethos, the Privileged Three are sunk.

I do what I pretty much always do in Dubai when I need to know something. I ask Ali.’

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The Dog was published in paperback this month.

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