Modern Masters

A Week in December – Sebastian Faulks – 7/10

(how ironic is it to have read A Week in December in June and be reviewing it in my first week off in… December?)

“Gabriel rested his teacup on a ziggurat of his head of chambers’ upcoming briefs and looked out of the window, down towards the river. Swollen with December rain, it was gliding on beneath the lights of the Embankment…”

week in december

From the blurb: London, the week before Christmas, 2007. Seven wintry days to track the lives of seven 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 astry by Islamist theory; a hack book-reviewer; a schoolboy hooked on skunk and reality TV; and a Tube 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, and the group is forced, one by one, to confront the true nature of the world they inhabit.

The characters in this are a real mix (as I imagine they are supposed to be). The younger characters (Gabriel and Jenny) are the much more sympathetic ones, just getting on with their lives as best they can while still being just generally nice people. John Veals is a piece of work – clever to make someone so inhuman and remorseless. The examination of Hassan’s life, obsession with Islamic theory, and conflict between his modern London life and what he has been taught was interesting and sensitive. The other characters I had forgotten until I read the blurb, but I don’t remember deliberately skipping through any sections of this book until it hit another character. Faulks does well to keep them all appropriately separated.

So this is the first of Sebastian Faulks’ books that I’ve read – even though I have both Birdsong and Charlotte Grey on the shelves. Sometimes it got a bit fanciful and obtuse, but on the whole, eminently readable while obviously skilful. Plotwise this is so-so; it’s really a character study, I think. There is a certain tension added by John and Hassan’s deeds, and various glimmers of romance here and there, but it’s only really there to give the characters something to do.

And as for the setting: this is so very London. And not just very London, but not tourist London, real, people-who-live-here-and-commute-to-work-here London. The far-flung suburbs with their spectrum of class, the postcode giveaway of household earnings. And it’s London December too – no particularly exciting weather, but grey and cold and a bit dreary but nearly Christmas so people are quite cheery and pubs are overflowing.

Good, but I’m not sure I’ll re-read it.

Additional information
Copy borrowed from The Book Accumulator. Finally I can give it back to him.
Publisher: Vintage Books, 390 pages (paperback)
Order A Week in December from Amazon*or Waterstones
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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4 thoughts on “A Week in December – Sebastian Faulks – 7/10”

  1. I find Sebastian Faulks really intimidating for some reason, so I’ve never read a single one of his books, although I know I should. I’ve heard that he can be a little ‘fanciful and obtuse,’ as you put it, but I suppose I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it…

  2. Also had lots of fun with this one, especially during the critic’s chapters. The ones about the finance world made my blood boil! By the way: what’s with the bicycle rider with no lights who keeps nearly knocking people over? Is it a private British joke I didn’t get?

    1. It’s a comment that a lot of cyclists (particularly in London) ride without a) lights b) consideration for pedestrians. I, as a proud London cyclist with lights and some brains, am a bit annoyed by this but I do see it all the time.

      The stuff about the finance world is kind of scarily believable.

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