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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, engaging and rewarding
I really must disagree with the negative reviews on here. Quite simply, this is one of my favourite books. I was engaged by all of the story lines and characters and found that the pacing and structure of the novel was such that I never got bored of any of them.

Some people have complained about the detailed descriptions of intricate financial dealings...
Published on 7 Jun 2011 by Waldo

versus
59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Love, Actually...in literary
The idea behind "A Week in December" is similar to that of the Richard Curtis film of a few years back. We follow various of London's inhabitants in the week before Christmas and discover their interconnectedness. And, at the end, love is the answer - parental love, romantic love and love of money, status and power.

It's an ambitious idea but, as a whole, it...
Published on 15 Nov 2010 by Secret Spi


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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, engaging and rewarding, 7 Jun 2011
By 
Waldo (Cheshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Week in December (Paperback)
I really must disagree with the negative reviews on here. Quite simply, this is one of my favourite books. I was engaged by all of the story lines and characters and found that the pacing and structure of the novel was such that I never got bored of any of them.

Some people have complained about the detailed descriptions of intricate financial dealings. However, I felt these were necessary to illustrate just how devilishly clever were the machinations. Did I understand all the ins and outs? No, but Faulks ensured that I understood enough to follow the story, whilst giving me a real sense of what goes on within the gleaming office blocks of London's financial district.

I, for one, found all of the character's story's to be perfectly plausible and illuminating, and could certainly relate to the modern disassociation from the real world that seems to be one of Faulks' central themes. I also loved the insights that the author has one of his characters propose about the role of books as the only medium that actually aims to explain the world and the people within it, rather than simply offering just another escape from reality.

To sum up, the book was very entertaining - a real suspense is built up in the second half of the novel - as well as being richly rewarding. Not only that, but the whole thing is told in a prose style that is wonderfully and refreshingly free of "creative writing group" pretension.
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59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Love, Actually...in literary, 15 Nov 2010
This review is from: A Week in December (Paperback)
The idea behind "A Week in December" is similar to that of the Richard Curtis film of a few years back. We follow various of London's inhabitants in the week before Christmas and discover their interconnectedness. And, at the end, love is the answer - parental love, romantic love and love of money, status and power.

It's an ambitious idea but, as a whole, it didn't work for me. In the first few pages of the book, the reader is exposed to a "bullet -point" list of about 30 characters (rather like a particularly dreary Powerpoint presentation), many of whom play no significant part in the following four hundred-odd pages. This "data dump" is followed up by (to my mind) tedious lectures about high finance in unnecessary detail. The funniest sections of the book concerned the literary critic, but I felt there were far too many in-jokes about the literary establishment for this to be effective. The parts intended as satire - concerning the reality TV show and the online parallel universe game fell flat for me, partly because these already seemed dated - the parody is of "Second Life" rather than today's ubiquitous Facebook. Many of the characters seemed to merge into one stereotype - I had difficulty in particular with distinguishing most of the women from one another.

The character that I found of most interest was the would-be suicide bomber Hassan - his story of all, was well-told. His parents were also drawn with warmth and humour. There were one or two other minor characters who were of interest, or added a light touch - such as Roger - and I felt I would have liked to have seen more from these people's lives rather than yet more information on hedge funds.

Normally, I love books from Sebastian Faulks - and I even forgave the psychology lectures in "Human Traces" as the book was so powerful and full of humanity. Towards the end of "A Week in December", I found a passage which made me wonder - like other reviewers - if the whole thing is some kind of weird joke on Faulks' part:

"From now on, you can only write about the nineteenth century...no more stuff about today...but...anything from before you were born, that should be alright, shouldn't it?"
"I, er...I think you may be right. The truth is I can't bear contemporary stuff."

Reading "A Week in December" was, for me, rather like being on Jenni's Circle Line train. I was looking forward to a journey round the people and places of London but instead I was stuck in a claustrophobic carriage packed too full of people that ground to an unexplained halt in the middle of nowhere.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment, 25 Oct 2009
By 
K. M. Garvey "KMG" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Week in December (Hardcover)
Sebastian Faulks is a fine novelist, and I very much looked forward to this book. But something has gone horribly wrong with "A week in December" and I almost do not know know where to begin in listing my frustrations. Before I start a mini rant, I should say this is the frustration of knowing he could have written a much better novel. But here, you wonder what happened to structure, character and plot ? And by the way, where was the editor ?

Probably the basic problem is structural, with the novel following ( as the title indicates ) various characters through a single week in London. The premise is that a dinner party will be held at the end of the week, bringing together a rather disparate and unappealing cross section of modern society (circa 2007). There are quite a few characters to be packed around that dinner table, and approximately the first two hundred pages give us the back story of each. In those .... very long... two hundred pages, pretty much nothing actually happens while the history of each is given in a measured but uninvolving manner. Things do finally pick up towards the end, but the rhythm of the piece has been lost long before.

The main characters are almost completely independent of one another and have virtually no connection or interaction , save when they are finally brought together for the somewhat implausible party at the end. Perhaps they were intended as a kaleidoscopic reflection of some modern types, but they seem cardboard cut outs existing in separate worlds.

A grinding problem was that none of the characters had much in the way of credibility, and instead came across as thinly scetched caricatures. The author clearly cares nothing about them , so why should we ? Perhaps the most enjoyable characters are the villains of the piece , John Veals (a nasty hedge hund master-of-the-universe type worth hundreds of millions and intent on making himself even richer by short selling a UK bank) and R.Tranter (an impoverished and mean spirited book reviewer). By the way, in what universe would those two end up eating at the same dinner party ? There is no hero as such and no one does anything remotely heroic in the story. The closest perhaps might be a rather drippy barrister , who falls in love with one of London Underground's few femail train divers. Now how do I put this - such a relationship is possible, but probably unlikely in reality, and if we are to believe in its existence then some force of emotion or connection must drive them together - and I fear there is none here.

And for a book about London at a crucial moment in history, the place itself is curiously absent for most of the time. With a few cuts or changes you could have set the book in New York or some other metropolis , and you have no sense of the smell , look , taste , vibrancy or colour of the City.

One last thing, in a fairly amusing sub plot ( mind you, they are all sub plots) the creepy Tranter has been giving Knocker al-Rashid (an endearing self made chutney magnate) lessons in English literature in order to prime him for his OBE investiture (should HM want to chat about recent novels). Theses two are both guests at the dinner party which closes the novel but do not speak, or interact in any way at this event. OK, so the fact they are both invited shows again how improbable that event was, but surely they could have connected somehow in what might have been an amusing or satisfying moment ( given that they are some of the few characters which had previously connected during the story) - and I am not sure if the author forgot or just lost interest. Oh well.
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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tough going, 17 Dec 2009
By 
Jl Adcock "John Adcock" (Ashtead UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Week in December (Hardcover)
Surprisingly, Faulks has written a bad novel with "A Week in December". Usually, he engages us with characters you actually want to know about, and develop some concern for; but not this time. Weaving together stories from several unlikeable characters, this sprawling book reminded me of "Mother London" by Michael Moorcock, in its shape and ambition, and it just didn't read like a Sebastian Faulks novel should.

Perhaps a spell "writing as Ian Fleming" has had a lasting impact on Faulks. It struck me here at times that although he'd done lots of research into the world of finance and dodgy deals, he's written about it in a way that didn't feel entirely authentic, and if anything he's made the topic of finance even more dreary. Fleming could sometimes be accused of the same - research into subjects that didn't always translate well in the Bond novels. So, perhaps there are dangers in writing as someone else!

Disappointingly, this latest offering from Sebastian Faulks is a bit of mess, hard going in places, and although wide-ranging in showing the author's knowledge on several different contemporary topics, it all feels a bit laboured and smug.
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69 of 80 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing But Enjoyable, 3 Oct 2009
By 
Mooch (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Week in December (Hardcover)
Having never read anything by Faulks before, I was surprised by how trashy-feeling this book was - it reads sort of like a lad-lit novel. My interest was piqued by all the talk of this being an attempt at parsing the State Of The Nation and by the fact that it is an early post-credit crunch novel by a major author. But despite all this hype and the portentous cover art and the fact that bankers and hedge-fund managers are among the many characters featured, the book is much more light-weight than I thought it was going to be.

I did enjoy it but I would have to say it is basically missable. The way it is made up of a large ensemble of characters following various intersecting storylines does mean it is probable you will like some stories more than others and may groan when you see you have to trudge through another passage from your least favourite strand. But it does add variety and by the last 100 pages I was eager to find out how each storyline concluded.

My problems were mainly with authenticity: some characters were much less convincing than others, time after time people spoke in highly contrived rants, points the writer was trying to make were often conveyed heavy-handedly and there were too many unlikely coincidences and unbelievable plot points. In fact talking of authenticity, it kind of annoyed me the way Faulks avoided using the real-life names for so many things in the novel, or invented parts of pop-culture. The big female pop group are called Girls From Behind, the big reality show (on Channel 7) is called It's Madness and consists of a snippy panel of judges taking the piss out of the (literally) mentally-ill contestants who then go on to stay in a big-brother style house etc etc. It reminded me a lot of the clever-clever pastiches Faulks does on the radio only with a despairing, misanthropic edge. The angry satire of these things is not a good fit with the general tone of the piece and a lot of the invention doesn't even serve a satirical purpose anyway: I know the footballer is fictional but why can't he play for Arsenal, why does it just coyly have to be "one of the London clubs"? By all means make up the hedge fund, but was it really necessary to invent the names of most of the banks? What would have been the problem with having the gamer play a game that actually exists (so to speak)? The novel is about people being cut off from the real world, but if that is the reason behind this fakery then I don't think it works successfully. It is not funny enough, not angry enough not consistent enough or well-judged and is basically just distracting.

All in all, it was an ok read, it rattles along at a decent pace and is sometimes amusing, but it is not the important book that you may have been lead to expect.
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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Jumble of implausible 'storylines', poorly tied together, 8 Nov 2009
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Week in December (Hardcover)
You can't accuse Sebastian Faulks of being formulaic. His novels cover a surprising range of topics and styles. The downside of this variety, however, is inconsistency. His novels to date comprise both 'hits' and 'misses'. When he's good, he's very, very good, but when he's bad... Unfortuanately, 'A Week In December' is a 'miss'.

As the title suggests, the 'action' takes place in a single week in mid-December, in London 2007 to be precise. A motley group of central characters, all linked with varying degrees of implausibility, are followed. Thus in the space of one mid-length novel Faulks tries to weld together a mish-mash of Islamic fundamentalism, pre-credit crunch banking greed, inter-racial relationships, celebrity culture, football, and mental illness. It's not surprise it doesn't really work.

The characters are generally quite flat and it's hard to develop any kind of relationship with them. Faulks recycles some of the research into mental illness that he put in for 'Human Traces' in a couple of schizophrenia storylines, and devotes considerable page space to trying to explain the economic nuances of the credit crunch. It's overly detailed, unnecessary and feels like showing off. If I wanted to understand how a hedge fund runs, I'd buy an economics textbook - understanding the ins and outs of the stock market really isn't important to appreciating the story, especially when it's done via the clumsy insertion of wordy monologues that interrupt the plot. Faulks needs to spend more time telling a story and less time regurgitating the encyclopaedia.

The Islamic fundamentalist storyline was especially weak and unbelievable. I also greatly disliked the embittered book reviewer - a ridiculous caricature presumably there to prevent an outlet for the author's spleen against those who give his books poor write-ups. The young Polish footballer was a more interesting character but got hardly any page space. The way the story threads came together didn't really work or ring true.

One of the other irritating features was the coyness about naming any 'real life' companies, people or institutions. For a book that's so clearly rooted in a specific time and that is trying very hard indeed to be contemporary, the invention of daft paper thin facades for real companies doesn't do anything for the credibility of novel that is already struggling. Where were Starbucks, Tescos, New Labour and Northern Rock? I was surprised that Faulks even dared use the London Underground name - to fit the trend in the rest of the story he'd have been better off calling it 'Capital Sub-Trains' or something of the sort.

Faulks isn't a bad writer - in fact, he's a good writer. But this poorly conceived and executed novel does him no favours and I wouldn't recommend it. You're better off buying an economics textbook for the factual elements, and one of his earlier books for a good read.
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141 of 164 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Faulks - past his best?, 1 Dec 2009
By 
Amanda Jenkinson "MandyJ" (Cheltenham) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Week in December (Hardcover)
On p267 of this latest novel by acclaimed author Sebastian Faulks there is the following exchange:
"The author's very famous, I believe" said Knocker.
"Famous," said Tranter, "but hopelessly over-rated".
Never has a line from a book seemed more apposite, for this is a truly dreadful book, and I can only imagine that it is Faulks's stature as a writer that has allowed its publication. Whilst talking of a fictional book one of the characters describes it thus: "workaday psychological observations", "unintentionally hilarious juxtapositions", embarrassing purple passages". Faulks could be describing his own novel.
A Week in December follows a disparate group of seven characters in London over the course of one week at the end of 2007. Each is apparently in his or her own world, but as the novel builds towards its climax, it gradually becomes clear that their stories are inter-related. Structured like a thriller, it is a social satire on our current dysfunctional society.
Each of the main characters is nothing more than a stereotypical cipher, from the shady and ruthless hedge-fund manager (we get a handy little lecture on what hedge-fund managers actually do) to the skunk-smoking reality TV obsessed teenager, from the Muslim fanatic to the literary critic to the chutney tycoon, amongst others.
Cliché follows cliché, interspersed with heavy-handed symbolism, helpfully spelled out for us in case we are too dense to work it out for ourselves. "....she had surprised them all by training as a (tube train) driver; it was almost as though she was trying to hide from something, Tony thought, burying herself beneath the ground".
This is Faulks first contemporary novel and is littered throughout with contemporary references - presumably to ram home just how in touch with modern-day life the author is. But for some reason, they are all clumsily disguised (no, not wittily, although I feel that may have been the intention). Someone shops in a "Finnish brownsite warehouse", teenagers visit "YourPlace" and another character plays "Parallax" where she has a "maquette". Why do this? If it is to avoid product placement, it still doesn't explain why Faulks feels he needs to invent "maquette" when "avatar" is the appropriate word.
As I read I started to highlight any particularly infelicitous phrase or expression (do people really "shoot the breeze"?) and particularly grating stereotypes (as a rule I don't think Americans behave boorishly in restaurants), but I gave up marking them after a while otherwise the book would have been more highlighter than print.
However, on the plus side, this would make a good book group choice, as Faulks has thrown in just about every contemporary theme you can think of, running the whole gamut of current issues - banking, finance, corruption, fundamentalism, drugs, computer games, reality TV, education, dysfunctional families, even, ironically, literary criticism. It's all there - take your pick. It's just a pity you have to wade through 517 pages of unrewarding prose to read about them.
"At page 46, he dropped the book with a whoop of delight. Sedley's novel was not just bad; it was embarrassingly, deliciously lame. He re-read a few sentences to reassure himself he hadn't just imagine it. But no, it was that bad." (p119)
My sentiments exactly.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What would RT say?, 30 Oct 2009
This review is from: A Week in December (Hardcover)
RT, being a completely poisonous book reviewer in the story who hates everything written in the last 50 years, would hate it. I have some sympathy. The opening chapters made me feel that Faulks, in some type of existential crisis, had been going to Andy Mcnab's creative writing class - jumping from scene to scene, clearly intended to weave a tense, none-too-complex tale with one-dimensional characters and an explosive conclusion. I almost chucked it in the bin, but I met RT just in time and was hooked until just before the end, where Faulks's sentimental tears dampen the fuses to all the potential blasts. In the end I guess we have to be satisfied with the novel idea that love redeems.

I'd guess Faulks knows people like a lot of the characters (if so, at least as far the Holland Park set are concerned, he has my sympathy). However, oddly, the most interesting person in the book for me was Hass, the terrorist, the one of whose type Faulks likely has least direct knowledge. I felt the examination of Hass's character, motives and experience of Islamic extremism was convincing and worthwhile.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Things fall apart, 1 April 2011
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Week in December (Paperback)
In this book, Sebastian Faulks seems to be attempting to sum up mid-noughties London in the same way that Tom Wolfe crystallized the Manhattan of twenty years previously in The Bonfire of the Vanities. A large cast of contemporary characters (including a hedge-fund manager, an Asian chutney tycoon, a barrister, a recently-appointed MP, a Polish footballer and a literary journalist) are briskly assembled as the guest-list of a dinner party which is to take place at the end of the book, and we follow several of them (plus subsidiary ones such as the son of the hedge-fund manager who's interested in mind-altering drugs and a reality TV gameshow, and the son of the tycoon who's a suicide-bomber in training) around for the period of time that gives the novel its title. It's a promising idea, and the reader is carried along for the most part by some interesting stories, but I didn't think the book held together as well as it could have.

The main problem, I think, is (what seems to be intended as) the central character: John Veals the hedge-fund manager. A lot of effort has been put into establishing him as someone who's only interested in making money, but - while this is clearly not intended to be a sympathetic trait - it has the effect of rendering him invisible. Nothing he says or does is of any interest to the reader (a fairly detailed technical account of option trading has been included by way of background to his job, but this stuff is tedious even for people who think they understand it, and it has no place in a work of entertainment). The obvious comparison is with Tom Wolfe's Sherman McCoy, who carried the full weight of The Bonfire of the Vanities; by contrast to Veals, he was a vibrant, memorable character (and the author was able to explain where his money came from in a much more entertaining fashion) who - in spite of his ultimately fatal flaws - the reader felt involved with, and we cared about what happened to him.

The characters that take up the rest of the novel are somewhat better-realised (although it seems that some of them are introduced only to illustrate some aspect of the zeitgeist before being quickly discarded), but I found that the gap at its heart made the book feel like it was always falling apart instead of coming together.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way We Live Now, 21 Oct 2011
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Week in December (Paperback)
It has often struck me that prose fiction is the one field of artistic endeavour where modernism has failed to triumph. To paint a picture, design a building, compose a symphony or write a poem in a traditionalist rather than modernist manner is to run the risk of being dismissed as a "reactionary" or (perhaps even more damning) a "middlebrow". Yet, although literature had its own equivalent of the Modern Movement it is still possible, even today, for a highbrow literary novelist to write a social-realist novel with an omniscient narrator and a cogent plot and still be treated with respect by the Establishment.

One possible explanation is that novelists are financially dependent upon pleasing the public, whereas artists, architects and composers can all to some extent depend upon State subsidy or commercial patronage. Another reason, however, is that realist fiction has a greater power than other art-forms to comment directly on the state of society, and therefore appeals to writers with a social message.

Sebastian Faulks is best-known as a writer of historical fiction, his most celebrated work possibly being "Birdsong" about the First World War. "A Week in December", however, is a new departure for him. It is a "state of the nation" novel in the nineteenth-century tradition, reminiscent of the Balzac, Thackeray, Dickens (especially "Our Mutual Friend") and (to take a twentieth-century example) the Winifred Holtby of "South Riding". (All of these writers are mentioned or referred to in the text). Another more recent influence is clearly the Tom Wolfe of "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "A Man in Full".

The novel's title derives from the fact that it is set over the period of seven days between 16th and 22nd December 2007. Faulks introduces us to seven major characters- a hedge fund manager John Veals, his teenage son Finn, unsuccessful young barrister Gabriel Northwood, tube driver Jenni Fortune, Polish footballer Tadeusz Borowski, author and book reviewer Ralph Tranter and Hassan al-Rashid, a student who has become involved with an militant Islamist group. He then follows the fortunes of these individuals, and the way in which their lives connect over the coming week.

Faulks's intentions in writing the novel were clearly satirical. The portrait of the spiteful, mean-spirited and hypocritical Tranter, for example, was doubtless intended to settle a few old scores between Faulks and some of his critics in the literary world. Like Wolfe's in "The Bonfire of the Vanities", however, his satire is principally aimed at the world of high finance and its "greed is good" mentality, as prevalent in the Bush/Blair era as it was in the eighties.

The main representative of this mentality is the billionaire Veals, a splendidly odious villain and the spiritual descendant of Balzac's Gobseck or Dickens's Fascination Fledgeby. Some men possessed of Veals's wealth would spend it on a stately home full of antique furniture and Old Master paintings, a luxury yacht and private jet, exotic holidays in five-star hotels, expensive hand-made suits, dining in the most exclusive restaurants, a stable of racehorses, a majority shareholding in a Premiership football club and, possibly, a string of beautiful young mistresses, but Veals cares for none of these things. He does, admittedly, live in a luxurious London home, but this is to satisfy the desires of his ambitious wife Vanessa rather than his own. For him the intellectual challenge of using his financial acumen to amass as much wealth as possible is far more important than anything that his wealth can buy. Indeed, it is more important to him than his family; he seems neither to know nor care that his son is a heavy drug user. When we meet him he is planning his greatest ever financial coup, hoping to double his wealth by manipulating the share-price of a major bank. Although the novel is set just before the financial crash of 2008, it was written just after it, and Faulks clearly takes the view that it was men like Veals who were to blame.

Faulks's satire, however, is not just confined to our financial institutions. He is also critical of what he sees as British society's unwillingness to face reality. Most of the characters have their own form of escapism. For Finn it is not only drugs but also an addiction to "reality" television programmes and "fantasy football", which for him is now more important than the real game. For Jenni it is an online game based upon Second Life. For Hassan it is religious fanaticism. For Tranter it is a rejection of the modern world and a retreat to an idealised Victorian past; he generally loathes any work of literature written after 1900. Veals may see himself as the supreme realist, but refuses to admit that his activities are nothing more than a form of gambling, as irresponsible as anything that takes place in a casino and more potentially serious because of the consequences that those activities can have for people in the real world. (Typically, Veals closes his mind to the economic damage he is causing).

The ultimate escape from reality is insanity, and this is a subject which plays a large part in the plot. Gabriel's brother has been committed to a mental hospital with schizophrenia, and Finn's drug use puts him at risk of a similar fate. The most surreal element in the novel is the "reality" TV show "It's Madness", in which sufferers from various mental illnesses compete to win psychiatric treatment. This has been criticised as unrealistic, but Faulks was here using exaggeration for satirical effect. In the real world (I hope!) TV companies would never come up with anything so crass, but in fact the concept is not so far removed from programmes such as "Big Brother", where contestants often exhibit signs of mental frailty. The fanatical religious zeal which leads Hassan into a terrorist group is also shown to be a form of madness.

The book also serves as a defence of the art of fiction. When Jenni suggests to Gabriel, who has become her boyfriend, that his love of literature is as much an escape from reality as her online gaming, he replies that fiction can in fact act as a key to the understanding of reality. The book itself provides some striking examples of this process, especially the story of Hassan. Faulks's fictional account was a more eloquent depiction of the psychology of religious fanaticism than any non-fictional treatment of the subject could have been.

The one plotline which never really seemed to be well-integrated into the rest of the novel was that involving the footballer Borowski, and, rather oddly, there is no real satire aimed at football, even though some might feel that the modern money-obsessed game is a subject crying out for satirical treatment. With that exception, however, Faulks handles his material very well, bringing his various threads together in a satisfying conclusion. Yet, all the time we admire his skill, he also succeeds in making us uneasy about what (to borrow a phrase of Trollope's) might be called the way we live now. An excellent book.
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A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (Paperback - 2 Sep 2010)
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