In his launch speech for Sold, author Brendan Gullifer says his book is about “where we get to when outcomes are pursued in complete disregard of consequences or ethics. And people are rewarded accordingly. It’s the Australian Wheat Board. It’s Enron. It’s Barings Bank. It’s Lehman Brothers. It’s George Bush. It’s John Howard. In the long term, it’s completely unsustainable.” Sold is a funny and fast paced novel that explores this unsustainable industry from the inside out. Will Pittman is the main protagonist, a failed Sydney Swans footballer, who has just joined the ranks at Prender & Prender Realty. He’s young, fresh faced, and eager to make his new career work. But it’s a cut-throat world he’s in and others know how to play the game much better than he.
Although Pittman knowingly gets himself into some rather touchy and unethical situations, including pretending to have Testicular Cancer, and covering up a theft, he remains likeable to the reader as he tries to find a way to both earn a living and remain on the right side of ethics. Gullifer has a keen sense of irony, and the supporting characters are equally rich and plausible, even the ghastly comic bad guy Dally Love - the super seller, whose overt sense of righteous self-control almost makes sense at times:
So when a client received a phone call, or a birthday card, or a gift hamper or a personally addressed letter, or any one of a dozen other points of contact from Dally Love, they thought how thoughtful. But they were just small points in a database that was interacting with a checklist of to-do items. It was ABL - always be listing. The system, Dally thought, was superbly efficient. (176)
Dally’s Tony Robbins-styled smoothness, even when he falls on his face, coupled with a mean streak, makes you want to hate him, and it's hard not to cheer on his nemesis Freddy Bradman and her mentally disabled brother Gerard, as they progress their ill-thought through plan to unseat the king of real estate. But then there’s Harry Osborne, or The Fox as he’s aptly called. He’s less clichéd than Dally, more sympathetic as he struggles to deal with rising debts and a failing marriage, and more dangerous when he becomes increasingly desperate and willing to do anything to make that increasingly elusive sale.
The plot plays out in a straightforward tale that is driven by Will’s slightly naïve perspective and awakening, coupled with Dally’s drive, the Fox’s plans, and Freddy’s revenge. That there are plenty of loose guns (including Terry Henderson or Hendo, the seemingly friendly sales manager who hired Will) and misfires in this likeable and absolutely believable story, only adds to the enjoyment. Both Dally Love and The Fox undergo their own transformation, but neither of them get quite the comeuppance that one might like. That said, there are plenty of laughs in the ultimate company that Dally forms, with its acronym of LIAR, not to mention the irony in the fellow’s name itself.