Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Week in December

John Veals and Hassan al-Rashid, two of the main characters from the new Sebastian Faulks novel, A Week in December, have more in common than either man would care to admit. Veals is the stereotypical hedge fund manager, one who has already pocketed more money than he could spend in a hundred lifetimes; al-Rashid is a young Muslim from Scotland who has been radicalized by one of the crazies who share his mosque.

Veals has hatched a plan that will make his hedge fun billions of dollars but will, in the process, destroy banks, jobs, the financial security of thousands of pensioners, and a significant portion of Africa’s agricultural production. It would be impossible for him to care less about the people who will lose jobs or starve to death because of his market manipulation. Hassan al-Rashid is a key player in a bomb plot to blow up one of London’s hospitals. He, too, is unconcerned about the innocent people he will destroy in the process of furthering his delusional political goal. A Week in December follows the progress of the Veals and al-Rashid plots for the week ending just before Christmas 2007, but these are only two of the book’s main plotlines.

Faulks also offers the improbable romance between Gabriel Northwood, a usually-out-of-work barrister, and Jennie Fortune, a young, mix-raced woman who happens to drive a train on the Circle Line portion of London’s underground. And there is book reviewer R. Tantor, a vicious little man whose main purpose in life seems to be nipping in the bud the potential success of as many debut novelists as possible. Tantor, one learns, cannot stand to see others gain the kind of success and attention his own novel failed to generate.

But these are just a handful of the characters and subplots Faulks uses to describe goings-on in the London of late 2007. There are more than a dozen other support characters, largely, but not limited to, family members and friends of the main characters (including even one Eastern European footballer brought in to play in the English Premier League), that allow Faust to expose the worst aspects of contemporary life in the United Kingdom. Along the way, he gives the reader satirical, but harsh, looks at the out-of-control greed governing the financial industry, the insanity that drives Islamist extremism, the utter stupidity of “reality” T.V., the ruinous effects of internet addiction, the failure of schools to educate, and the overriding pretentiousness of the super-rich. Frankly, there is not much to like about this version of British big city life.

Faulks gradually brings his characters and plots closer and closer together, building the tension as readers begin to wonder how it will all end. That device worked, perhaps too well, on me and I found myself racing through the final chapter (day seven) to learn what happens when the main plotlines finally converge. I say it worked “too well” because I found the book’s ending to be somewhat flat when compared to its buildup. My other quibble with the book concerns the number of pages Faulks used to detail the inner workings of the financial strategy devised by the book’s chief villain, John Veals. Faulks fell victim to the temptation of giving his readers too much information – and, as a result, may have lost some of those readers long before they finished the book.

I do wonder whether A Week in December will appeal more to its British readers or to its American Anglophile ones. It is, though, absolutely well worth the attention of both groups.

Rated at: 4.0

P.S. If you enjoy the novels of Tom Wolfe, you will probably enjoy this one.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. I've been looking forward to this one, and it just came in at the library for me, but you just had to go and compare it to Tom Wolfe, didn't you, Sam? The man who writes unlikable characters so darn well that I haven't finished one of his books since Electric Kool Aid.

    Otherwise, you made it sound just like something I'd like.

  2. I really wish I could tell you that this one didn't strongly remind me of Tom Wolfe...but can't do it.

    There are unlikable characters, especially one of the main ones, and likable ones, so you might still be OK. I hope so.

  3. How funny that you've just read this too! I just glanced at your review but will finish it once I have finished the book, which I just started this week.


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