A Week in December

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A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks, book reviewApart from his recent appearance as the reincarnation of Ian Fleming, I devour the novels of Sebastian Faulks with relish, and saved the reading of his most recent to appear in paperback, “A Week in December”, to coincide with a trip to the capital. It’s a rather ambitious project with an extensive cast of largely unlikeable and unsympathetic characters; the story follows them over a week and gradually the connections between them become stronger. Place and time are paramount to the story; this is clearly a comment on modern society, with an emphasis on the financial sector, at which Faulks directs particular vitriol.

This cast of too many is introduced by means of a bullet pointed list of invitees to a dinner party; only a handful played much of a part in the next four hundred pages. Sadly, for me, the ones who most interested me featured the least and the words that could have been used to include them were instead wasted on page after page of tedious information on the terrible world of hedge funds and the like. It’s rather symptomatic of the failings of the novel that in spite of the lengthy explanations of exactly how our bankers have screwed us over, I still don’t really understand it. I am sure Faulks sweated over the research but it’s all in vain because when presented at such length it makes for poor fiction.

The odious John Veals is the books central character, if only in terms of how many pages he fills with his money making obsession. He has no interests in life outside of making more money and he doesn’t care what damage he does in the process. He’s oblivious to the fact that his wife eats almost nothing but drinks like a fish and has no inkling that his sixteen year old son stays up into the early hours smoking weed and watching mentally ill people competing to be the last one standing in a television studio bungalow. Veals doesn’t read; doesn’t watch television; doesn’t go to the theatre; rarely goes on holiday. All of this information is irrelevant really; we understand pretty quickly exactly what kind of man Veals is, but Faulks labours the point.

Another irritation is the cringe-worthy way Faulks has created fictional versions of features of contemporary life such as his take on the virtual reality game “Second Life”. This and a rather thinly veiled take on Facebook – rather unoriginally named “Your Place” – are just a little too late to be really punchy and relevant. Similarly a rather crass parody of reality television smacks of the author trying a little too hard. Book reviewing sites (a touch sensitive in these parts), fantasy football leagues, financial chat forums: there’s no aspect of the world wide web that isn’t described ad nauseam. The pinnacle of this silliness is the fictional girl band “Girls From Behind” which might have raised a smile had it appeared in the pages of a Ben Elton novel but was plain embarrassing here.

On the other hand I loved the literary critic R Tranter, perhaps the only character to bring some comedic relief to the proceedings. The supercilious Tranter is no doubt Faulks dig at one of several real reviewers but reminded me a little of Will Self. His ongoing battles with a new kid on the block culminating in the Alexander Sedley’s presence on a panel judging a prize that Tranter is up for are the highlight of the novel. Ironically Tranter would certainly sharpen his pencil to write some poisonous words about “A Week in December”. Another interesting but irrelevant character was Spike, a Polish footballers, newly signed to one of the capital’s top football clubs.

Where the book falls down is the concentration on character studies to the detriment of the plot which appears promising at times but fizzles out all too often. For too long the story goes nowhere but splutters into life in a nearly satisfying way towards the end. Unfortunately this may be too late for many readers who, bored rigid by the many pages of financial drivel will have flung the book to one side.

Occasionally there are flashes of Faulks unquestionable skill but fans of his earlier works such as “Birdsong” may well be disappointed. “A Week in December”? More like three months watching paint.

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A Week in December
by Sebastian Faulks

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Written by Mary Bor
Mary Bor

Aspiring travel writer and avid Yugophile living in the UK and Slovenia. Loves (in no particular order) Scandinavian crime fiction, Indian food, walking, scavenging, Russian dolls

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