Pros:Some characters and stories are interesting. Some good satire. Well written and researched.
Cons:Others are dull and heavy-handed. Pacing is uneven. Less profound than it would like.
The Bottom Line: It may not leave up to it's Dickensian label, but A Week in December contains some strong material amidst it's endless, dreary tirade against bankers.
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.
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