‘A week in December’ by Sebastian Faulks, London, Vintage, 2010, 390 pages, £7.99
Sebastian Faulks’ most recent novel, attempts to portray a snapshot of middle-class London life. What critics described as a Dickensian attempt at the ‘Great British novel’, appears as a complicated and rather banal portrayal of contemporary London life. On the surface, “banal” may seem a poor choice of adjective, considering that the novel follows an array of characters ranging from Islamic extremists and schizophrenics, to train drivers and politicians. Yet somehow, the novel falls short of excitement.
Albeit much of the 19th Century social satire was far from eventful, yet in this day and age, a novel with a set-up of characters like these carries expectations of much more action. No one can flaw Faulks’ writing, which is richly flamboyant and knowledgeable, however, the actual content and plotlines (if any) come across as lack-lustre.
Opening with dinner plans at newly crowned MP Lance Topping’s residence, his wife Sophie muses through the seating plans for the guest-list, which inevitably consists of the interlinked characters within the novel. The list comprises of a variety of peoples from the haplessly lovelorn lawyer Gabriel, to Spike the newly transferred star footballer. The guests also include a dodgy dealing hedge fund manager, John Veals whose obsession with money has reciprocated in a distraught and misshapen family. Also in attendance are the al-Rashid’s, an entrepreneurial family in the pickle manufacturing business, who despite all their surface happiness are unawares of their son’s radical take on Islam, and his terrorist connections. Faulks’ most notably successful aspect of recreating social satire resides within the character of journalist R. Tranter whose pessimistic reviews and resentful hatred of other critics is vibrantly portrayed, and not without a subtle hint of irony towards Faulks’ own critics.
Whilst following these characters’ individual stories in alternating sections, it is easy to be drawn in, and to become expectant of a climax when all the characters are due to meet at the Topping’s dinner. However, in stark contrast to this, events go rather undeterred, and rather ironically, life simply goes on. Faulks’ novel could be interpreted as a stroke of brilliance or, an eternal bore. Its genius aspects reside in the fact that it does provide a glimpse of London life and the very fact that life in general is full of anticlimaxes, and that no matter what, life always goes on. Or you could think this novel goes on too long and never gets anywhere, and is ultimately a disappointment. Whichever you choose, one thing will be mutual amongst all readers, and that is the unmistakable feeling that you always get whilst reading Faulks, the feeling that you are basking with the one of the country’s most profound, intellectual and ambitious writers around today.