British novel with a twist

2009-12-23 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

A Week in December

Sebastian Faulks

Random House Struik

THIS thriller was a refreshing change from my recent diet of nonfiction and human misery novels. However, it was still quite hard work as the book has a large cast and multitudinous plots lines that meander around London­ in the week before Christmas, 2007.

There’s a seemingly amoral multi-millionaire hedge-fund manager planning to make even more money by ruining a bank, his neglected cannabis-smoking teenage son, a nasty-tongued and even nastier-penned book reviewer; a Muslim youth recruited into a suicide-bombing cell and his gentle parents; a young lawyer­; a woman tube driver and a Polish footballer and his Russian girlfriend who features on a porn site. What brings together all their stories is the kind of smart dinner party that I’ll never be invited to.

Faulks seems to have set out to write the great contemporary British novel, and at some levels he succeeds. He manages to capture the loneliness and alienation of modern-city living, as well as Britain’s Babel-like cultural diversity. His satire of the wealthy set and the literary world is caustic and his description of an OBE ceremony presided over by Prince Charles is a gem. He also rips into Britain’s bankrupt culture in which reality TV and alternative reality computer games are as popular as football, and people who read books are as rare as a ray of sunshine in a London snowstorm.

It’s a gripping story that offers up a suitably satisfying twist, but I found many of the characters too one- dimensional­, particularly John Veals, the foul-mouthed but bloodless main character. Faulks’s attempt to get into the mind of the zealous young would-be bomber was also iffy, although his references to the Qur’an have still caused offence in Britain, which is undoubtedly good for sales.

Faulks fans will probably be enthralled, but as a first-time reader of this writer, I would not put this book on my Christmas list.

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