One Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks

>> Sunday, January 29, 2012

TITLE: One Week in December
AUTHOR: Sebastian Faulks

PAGES: 392

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: Fiction

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 reality TV and genetically altered pot; and a Tube train driver whose Circle Line train joins these and countless other lives together in a daily loop.

With daring skill and savage humor, A Week in December explores the complex patterns and crossings of modern urban life; as the novel moves to its gripping climax, its characters are forced, one by one, to confront the true nature of the world they—and we all—inhabit.
I randomly picked this one up at the library, not really knowing what to expect. What with all my constant review reading and book chatter online, that's a pretty rare experience these days, and I enjoyed the change. That's possibly because I really enjoyed the book as well.

The setup is pretty straightforward. It's mid-December 2007, and people are just going about their lives. And for a week, we follow a group of characters who are doing exactly that.

It's a diverse and interesting group. There's Jenni Fortune, a Tube driver, involved in a legal case arising from someone jumping in front of her train a couple of years earlier. There's Gabriel Northwood, a barrister also involved in the case. There's John Veals, a hedge fund manager engaging in machiavellian manouvers. There's his son. There's Ralph Tranter, an unscrupulous book reviewer who delights in tearing books to pieces (do I detect some getting even there on Faulks' part?). There's Hassan al-Rashid, a would-be suicide bomber and his father, Knocker, a successful industrialist. There's a Polish football player just starting out in a Premier League team. And these are only the "main" characters.

Over the one week we spend with them, their lives cross and connect in more or less unexpected ways.

I was interested in all of them and their stories (with the exception of Veals, the hedge fund manager). But what was even more intriguing was the way in which Faulks used their stories to explore the idea of the increasing artificiality of modern life, and how the virtual is sometimes becoming more real than 'real' life. Some of it is a bit obvious but still interesting (like Jenni's engagement in a Second Life-type site, or Finn's obsession with a reality show so jaw-dropping it will probably become real at some point). Some is obvious in boring ways (John Veals' financial dealings, but that's probably a function of me reading this in 2011, when the utter lunacy of such stuff is not a particularly novel idea. Still, I dreaded reading his sections. Mind-numbingly boring detail, and I'm an economist, I'm supposed to be interested in this stuff). Most of it is really revealing, though, and I enjoyed thinking about it.

I was listening to the latest Guardian books podcast last weekend, and they were discussing the fact that there is no British equivalent to the Great American Novel, that sort of state-of-the-nation statement. Well, I beg to disagree. One Week In December is a damn good stab at just that.



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