A WEEK IN DECEMBER by Sebastian Faulks

Book Quote:

“From Havering to Holland Park, from Forest Hill to Ferrers End, from Upminster to Parsons Green, the individuals would shortly leave their flats and houses, fragrant and hopeful, bang the doors, and go like invisible cells into the bloodstream of the city…”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman (JUL 4, 2010)

Sebastian Faulks is nothing if not ambitious. In his latest book, a sweeping and piercing satire about contemporary London, Mr. Faulks takes on everything from the financial meltdown and the profusion of silly book awards to shockingly offensive reality TV, cyber porn, London football, and, for good measure, Islamic radicalism. The good news is, for the most part, he succeeds admirably.

Within these pages, we meet a fascinating cast of characters: a hedge fund manager who plots and schemes to become filthy rich from the crash of a well-known bank. His skunk-addicted son who is obsessed with a new reality show called It’s Madness, which pits schizophrenics, bipolars, and other mentally challenged contestants against each other to win a free year of treatment. A Pakistani businessman who introduces lime pickles to London and has been nominated for an OBE from the Palace along with his teenage son, a would-be terrorist who dreams of converting the world to pure Islam. And a disgruntled literary critic – R. Tranter – who envies and savages a rising literary star in a most unpleasant way.

At first glance, this disparate cast has little in common; however, each of them, in his or her own way, is escaping from something that one character calls “true life.” We’ve come a long way, Mr. Faulks seems to suggest, from a sense of value and purpose. Our modern life has become dumbed-down and turned us into anesthetized robots, tethered to our cell phones and laptops. One character shuts out the world with a genetically-mutated drug (“skunk”); another with an alternate-reality game called Parallax; yet another with extremist religious beliefs; still another with a retreat into the 19th century of literature where things were simpler. And perhaps the boldest reality-alterer of all, the financier John Veals, builds his fortune on the illusion of market stability.

The satire is often delicious, like reading a Tom Wolfe novel (think: Bonfire of the Vanities). Some of it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, such as a scene in which the would-be suicide bomber explains to his handler that he may be tardy to his mission because he is being forced to accompany his father to Buckingham Palace to receive his OBE. Or this scene: the Pakistani Farroq al-Rashid hires R. Tranter to give him a crash course in literature so he can “chat up” the Queen, only to have his entire list summarily dismissed (“OT – Oirish Twaddle,” “poor man’s Somerset Maugham,” or “the man who put the ‘anal’ into ‘banality’).” Or this gem about the latest irrelevant book prize: “The Pizza Palace Book of the Year prize, somewhat controversially, was awarded to either a children’s story, a travel book, or a biography. Excluding all fiction was a bold thing to do, but it was felt that novelists already had enough prizes of their own…”

It is likely that the reader will relate to some characters over others; for this reader, it was sometimes hard to follow the marginally-legal high-stakes financial deals, done behind the backs of the regulators. Sebastian Faulks particularly skewers those who are “not just wealthy, but insanely, ineffably, immeasurably rich.” Still, A Week In December deserves big kudos for tackling greed and the dehumanizing effects of the electronic age and doing it so darn well.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 60 readers
PUBLISHER: Doubleday; 1 edition (March 9, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Sebastian Faulks
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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July 4, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Humorous, Satire, United Kingdom, y Award Winning Author

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