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A Week in December

Sebastian Faulks

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (2 Reviews)
Book Details

Publisher : Vintage

Published : 2010

Copyright : Sebastian Faulks 2009

ISBN-10 : PB 0-09-945828-4
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-09-945828-9

Publisher's Write-Up

London, the week before Christmas, 2007. Over seven days we follow the lives of seven major characters: a hedge fund manager trying to bring off the biggest trade of his career; a professional footballer recently arrived from Poland; a young lawyer with little work and too much time to speculate; a student who has been led astray by Islamist theory; a hack book-reviewer; a schoolboy hooked on skunk and reality TV; and a Tube train driver whose Circle Line train joins these and countless other lives together in a daily loop.

With daring skill, the novel pieces together the complex patterns and crossings of modern urban life. Greed, the dehumanising effects of the electronic age and the fragmentation of society are some of the themes dealt with in this savagely humorous book. The writing on the wall appears in letters ten feet high, but the characters refuse to see it - and party on as though tomorrow is a dream.

Sebastian Faulks probes not only the self-deceptions of this intensely realised group of people, but their hopes and loves as well. As the novel moves to its gripping climax, they are forced, one by one, to confront the true nature of the world they inhabit.

'Page-turning portrait of noughties' London.'

Woman & Home

'The novel is cleverly plotted and eminently readable.'

The Sunday Times

'Faulks never writes a hackneyed or lazy sentence, polishing each with care'.'

Independent on Sunday
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Matt Brown (310512) Rating (8/10)
Review by Ben Scott (310311) Rating (9/10)

Review by Matt Brown
Rating 8/10
Sebastian Faulks: No Dickens, but worth a shot...

Seven characters in seven days. It's a fun premise, and alongside fond memories of Faulks' Birdsong, and the fact I hadn't read any non-fantasy fiction in a while, it's the main reason A Week in December caught my eye.
When it works, the setup presents deftly flits between the perspectives of seven much-varied souls as their lives cross, Dickens-style, in the week before Christmas 2007. One of the most interesting tales is that of Hassan Al-Rasheed, a disaffected young Muslim whose immigrant father found his fortune as a pickle magnate. Feeling isolated from society, Hassan found solace in the Koran before gradually being enticed towards the dark world of religious extremism. His gradually explored path towards radicalisation felt authentic and well researched, and he cuts a sympathetic figure despite his status as a would-be terrorist.

Another strong point is Gabriel Northwood, a young lawyer struggling to find work and spending too much time dwelling on the lost love of his life. One of his few cases finds his path crossing with Jenny Fortune, a Tube driver who is increasingly substituting her dull and luckless real life for an addiction to online gaming. The inevitable connection between the melancholic Gabriel and the closed-off but vulnerable Jenny is somewhat predictable but nevertheless sweetly enjoyable.

A side effect of this seven-by-seven approach however, is that it really is only as good as the sum of its parts, and each section needs to stand up on its own for the novel to hang together properly. Unfortunately A Week in December falls someway short of this goal, and every finely written and interesting character seems to be balanced by a clumsily written and boring counterweight.

Chief perpetrator is John Veals, an unscrupulous hedge fund manager whose grotesque wealth is matched only by his selfishness. He values the acquisition of money above all things in life, and is clearly meant to symbolise the much-hated financial moguls behind the economic crisis of recent years.

His real purpose though is clearly to display how much research Faulks put into the complicated world of financial trading, and I grew to dread his sections and the seemingly endless explanation of what exactly a hedge fund manager is and why we should hate their ilk. Veals is purposefully written to be both dull and unlikeable, but his narrative lacks any kind of petard-hoist to actually make this avaricious wretch bearable.

Another character who quickly becomes a narrative blight is bitter hack reviewer R Tranter. A failed novelist, Tranter has taken to compensating by penning scathing reviews in an attempt to crush the spirit of authors with better luck. There is little to recommend the spiteful and mean-spirited little man, though unlike Veals he does at least undergo some form of character progression. He unfortunately also happens to be a straw-man of the highest order, which speaks rather poorly of Faulks himself.

Finishing off the seven group of seven, along with the good and the bad are the… meh. Polish footballer Tadeusz "Spike" Borowski seems to have been brought along only to shore up the numbers and does nothing of consequence, while John Veals' teenage son Finn exists mostly to assist a public service announcement about cannabis and the downward spiral of reality TV.

A number of minor plot threads meanwhile, such as Jenny's online stalker and Gabriel's mentally disturbed brother, seem to fizzle out - – presumably to make room for more financial babbling on the part of John Veals.
Fortunately Faulks also manages to deliver some rather better delivered pieces of social commentary, including wry jabs at the occasional hypocrisy of the literary world and the increasingly desperate depths plumbed by reality TV.

A Week in December has much to recommend it, telling its share of interesting tales and making many well-placed observations on our modern lives. Regrettably every well-crafted character and salient point has an ungainly and disappointing equivalent that stops the novel from achieving more than a semblance to the Dickensian pedigree it has been labelled with.
Matt Brown (31st May 2012)

Review by Ben Scott
Rating 9/10
I'm a simple man who likes simple things. I prefer a fried breakfast to hauté cuisine, a giant sculpture of a hand to the Mona Lisa and a blockbuster to an art house 'classic'. This also applies to my books, I don't like hugely complicated plot structures or overly confusing themes which have more prominence than the story itself. My pet hate is when authors decide to name characters with the same first letter; do they really have to be called Jo, Joe, James and Jamie? Authors often seem to forget that as much as we would like to, we do not often have the time to sit down and read a book in one sitting. When we come home, tired from a days work, we do not want to spend the first 10 minutes guiltily turning back through pages trying to remember if it was Jamie who was sleeping with Jo, or was it with James? Only to find out that it was actually with Jackie the jaunty and jocular janitor from Jersey.

This is why I picked up Faulks's first offering of a novel set in modern times with a sense of trepidation. The story spans one week and narrates the lives of seven characters. Where the beauty of this piece lies is the masterly interweaving of the different lives. Sometimes this is obvious but more often than not it has a subtlety that makes you think to yourself; “Is that who I think that is? Noooo, really?” The characters come from a variety of backgrounds including a lonely tube driver, a schoolboy hooked on skunk, an elderly acrid book reviewer and most affectingly of all a student led astray by Islam. We are allowed a sneak peek into different aspects of each of their lives throughout the week as it builds towards its climax. Our student, full of conflicting desires, walks towards the centre of London armed with a bomb, whilst a hedge fund manager is sitting on the trigger of a much larger one.

It is a huge task undertaken by Faulks but one which he pulls off with aplomb. The fear is that with so much going on that characters would be under developed or that you would lose the thread of the action. However, you find yourself empathising with some of the characters and their hopes and fears mirror those of yours and mine. These are normal people and naturally you soon find yourself with a favourite, mine was Knocker and his fears over what to say when he met the Queen. We are also presented with the archetypal villain of our times in Veals, an insidious banker (best said with emphasis on the last two consonants) who is so far removed from morality as to be a true student of egoism. And if you do have a momentary lapse in your memory then there is a handy crib sheet towards the beginning in which most of them are invited to a dinner party. The action is easily followed as it is far from complex, however, some passages relating to Islam that Faulks uses takes some concentration. But that effort comes with a price as you often find the arguments put towards our misled student strangely rational, but with a conclusion that is far from that.

The book is not without its humour as well with biting satire throughout which genuinely made me laugh out loud. Its satirical moments do not detract from the over-arching story line though, simply woven into the fabric of it. It is not humours for humours sake, more humour because you've got to laugh along at the world Faulks sees, and you inhabit.
Overall I highly recommend this book, a real masterpiece of storytelling. It is a book that anyone can find something in it that they like, even a simple man like me.

Ben Scott (31st March 2011)

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