If 2016 Best Picture nominee The Big Short were recast from the female gaze (a slightly older, more world-weary gaze than, say, Selena Gomez’s), you’d get something approximating Opening Belle, a novel written by former Wall Streeter Maureen Sherry and optioned for the big screen by Reese Witherspoon.
The story opens in late 2007 (you don’t have to be a Financial Times subscriber to understand the implications here), where we meet our harried heroine Belle McElroy, a managing director at a financial firm, mother of three, and wife of an ambition-less, mostly unemployed husband. As the sole breadwinner, Belle tolerates her office’s boys’ club mentality—the octopus hands, the derogatory comments—keeping her head down and doing her work without complaint. That is, until a disastrous turn of events at the annual Christmas party lead a small group of women to form the Glass Ceiling Club. Its mission: to surreptitiously change the sexist, racist culture of the firm.
But there are plenty of distractions keeping Belle from her equal-opportunity activism, including a big new client—who just so happens to be her former fiancé Henry. With her home life slowly imploding and the sub-prime mortgage crisis looming, Belle is feeling the pains of being a #Girlboss.
Sherry’s insights into the Street are keen and cutting (she didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement when she resigned from Bear Stears), and her storytelling style is compulsively readable. And unpredictable—not always for the better. To wit, a creepy third-act twist involving Belle’s former flame is juicy but ultimately unbelievable. That shouldn’t deter readers, though. Opening Belle is a cheeky—and at times, romantic—battle-cry for any woman who’s ever strived to have it all and been told by a man that she couldn’t. B