on 29 September 2011
Looking through the online reviews I think this book is much underrated. In fact so many people complained that the ending was weak that I nearly gave up on it - but I am very glad that I didn't.
In the event I found the ending excellent and the whole book coherent, stylish and important. It avoids the James Bond denouement that some readers seem to have been hoping for but surely they can find that elsewhere. The several catastrophes that were actually described are far more devastating for being far more real. Indeed the story mirrors events that have occurred since it was written to an extent which is truly extraordinary.
There was an element of satire and exaggeration as Faulks savaged his various modern stereotypes with devastating power. But for me the targets were well chosen and the attacks as justified as they were overdue. The Telegraph reviewer quoted on the back cover said it was 'hilarious' and the 'satire [was] so vicious..." Mandy Rice Davies once gave the definitive explanation for that kind of trivialisation of the book's attack!
Faulks' research is prodigious and the book gave insights into a surprising variety of faces of the modern world that I definitely needed to know about, even if I didn't particularly want to. The recurring motif of the anonymous cyclist without lights pushing past on the pavement gave a surreal feel which was a little magical.
I strongly recommend it. It deserves to endure as a parable of our age.
on 18 June 2011
Unlike a lot of the reviewers of this book I had not previously read anything by Sebastian Faulks before so perhaps had very different (very few) expectations. I must admit that after the first few pages I did almost give it up as the start did just not grip me, with what was almost a 'cast list' given to introduce many of the characters (presented as a list of people to invite to a party)- but I am very glad I persevered. The idea of following the stories of a group of people over a short period of time has been done before, but I really liked the characters and the ways that they their lives crossed in many small or major ways. Some of the satire was a bit heavier than I expected but there were for me both some very funny and insightful moments. Others have mentioned the use of games, musical groups, social networking sites etc used in the story that are named differently from similar things that really exist, which does seem odd, but I think is understanadable if you are writing a book that satirises some of these things. I did not totally follow the details of the financial side of the story, and the City may be an easy target, but I beleive that the story has a point that is worth making. Given that the book takes place within a single week some aspects of the ending are implied without perhaps getting the full story, but this worked for me and I really enjoyed the book. Maybe this is an atypical Faulks book in which case I'm not sure how I would get on with the others!
on 7 June 2011
Surprising in a good way! I've not ready any of Faulks' other novels so this is my introduction to him, but I can confidently say I shall be taking a look at some of his others. I enjoyed his writing style and loved how different each character was, and their different 'worlds' so to speak. The book is split into seven chapters, and each chapter split again, jumping between the events of that day in each character's life. Faulks crafted each individual character well and by the end I really cared for them all in some way, on both ends of the scale (loved the train driver, hated the hedge fund manager, felt sympathy for his family, worried for the extremist). I reached the climax of the book (about 100 pages from the end) late at night when I should have been going to bed for an early start, and didn't stop reading until the small hours of the morning!!!
A Week in December is not a book I would normally read, but I'm glad I picked it up. As a slow reader I'm surprised I finished it in just under 5 days when it should have taken me at least a week or so! I've rated it four stars instead of five because the jumping between characters sometimes seemed a little jumbled at times, and the many lengthy explanaitions about finance did nothing to help me understand the hedge fund trades, but that's just me! :P
I had to write this review, because I can't see why it only has 2.5 stars!
on 5 January 2012
Five stars, because even though the book has flaws, it is a must-read.
Faulks has too many characters, who obscure the real tension: the three-way triangle between Adam, middling lawyer Gabriel's schizophrenic brother; Hassan, the burgeoning "Secret Agent"-style suicide bomber; and John Veals, the hedge-fund oligarch.
These characters never directly interact, meeting instead indirectly through "six degrees of separation"-style connections.
Yet as the reader studies their lives, he must ask: which one is more disconnected from reality? The locked-up schizophrenic, who thinks that he must protect the world from attack, when, in fact, a group of Islamist fundamentalists, unseen, is plotting to attack his world? Hassan, a member of the fundamentalists, who thinks that he is carrying out the Prophet's wishes? Or Veals, who lives six degrees separated from the "real economy" and millennial finance's effect on it? And who, in the end, will give up his own carefully constructed reality to save others?
Faulks sometimes plods along and sometimes his characterization of more minor figures rings untrue. Still, though, the book achieves a reader's highest compliment: you want to keep turning the page.
on 1 December 2012
A Week In December is a London novel dealing with some of the major preoccupations of modern life in the early 21st Century. It is a set of (surprisingly) interconnected tales set against the backdrop the financial crisis of 2008 and the aftermath of the 7/7 attacks. Each of the characters seem (to me) to represent some aspect of modern life: from the self made Asian pickle magnate and his radicalised son; Jenni the London underground train driver who loses herself every night in a WoW style online game; the hedge fund manager who is about to blow the financial system up with the scam of the century, John Veals and his mega strength skunk smoking son and an eastern European footballer just signed to a 'London' football team comprising of mostly foreign players with little connection to the city.
There are various stabs at certain aspects of modern existence-when Faulks writes about a cynical reality TV show called 'It's Madness' you know exactly which real life programme he is referring to and the novel is not without its lighter moments-the story about the Asian pickle magnate about to be given an OBE by the Queen has a nice comic twist. However, the constant shift of narrative perspective and the sheer number of narrative strands made the novel rather disjointed at times. Although I felt that most of the characters were credible and believable (mostly depressingly so) I also felt that too many 'big ideas' were trying to be addressed all at once.
on 15 November 2010
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.
on 7 June 2011
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.
on 25 October 2009
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.
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.
on 26 July 2012
The novel, as others have stated, had an ambitious story line involving far too many characters. It appears that some were created for the sake of some rather feeble and obscure reason, the footballer for example added very little to the story. Many of the other characters were not developed and failed to get the reader interested in them. Amongst the obvious and serious messgaes relating to a society which has lost it's way, there were some amusing human traits explored - the petty professional rivalry of the author and the snobbery of the chutney producer were explored very well.
I enjoyed Birdsong so much that perhaps I am now expecting too much from Faulkes, by comparison this book is instantly forgettable.