No discussion of excess would be complete without recourse to that den of capitalist consumption, Wall Street. You are introduced through gateway stockbroker highs into his wanton world. There are references to gold Rolexes, the sale of Microsoft stocks, Absolut martinis… but before long, Belfort leads you onto the hard stuff of excess – to cocaine and hookers, helicopters and vast estates, scams and infidelity. When money is cheap, anything goes.
There is a distinct conflict between Belfort’s claim to present us with a ‘cautionary tale’ for his kids and his gratuitous glamorising of the Wall Street boardroom. There are moments when Belfort’s infant-like characterisations of himself are frankly hilarious. His anecdotes are comic to the point of audible sniggering. After crashing his helicopter at his estate whilst drugged up on Quaaludes (following a deviant tryst with a hooker named Venice involving a candle) – he is actually surprised to be admonished by his beautiful wife Nadine, as she throws water over him and his thousand-dollar white Chinese silk bedding. His only infant-like fixation, laughably, is to coerce her back into bed with him for a quick round of make-up sex. Nadine’s sarcasm hits the mark. ‘Let me hear another lie from the man who lies for a living’, she snarls. And yet even then, he seems to get away with it and simply has his maid put the timer on the sauna and offer to fetch him more drugs. It seems that no matter his excess and nihilistic abandon, Belfort is immune and free from recompense. Before it crashed down around him, Belfort could probably make a thousand dollars a minute and spend it just as fast.
Through this colloquially written memoir, he has made a more than decent living just by bragging about it (and subsequently having himself played on the big screen by DiCaprio). According to Rolling Stone, “you actually feel for the guy”. It’s certainly true that you enter his world of unbridled hedonism through a voice which Belfort professes “helped me corrupt other people – and manipulate them”. But, ultimately, I cannot empathise with his excesses, not without bargaining with some form of moral restraint. For me, the book itself is a giant brag-fest of a selfish man’s exploits. It reeks of Russell Brand-like egocentrism and is reminiscent of Irvine Welsh’s lewd central character in Filth, Ray Lennox. His story smacks of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the magician who bargained away his soul for mere tricks in a greedy quest for power.
Belfort’s success, and his idolization by fellow students at York, is concerning as they graduate with plans to head to the City or make their fortunes in 2014. The eighties are long gone. But this is not to say that it’s not a rollicking good read..