A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

A Week in December by Sebastian FaulksThe book chosen for April is A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks.
OK, it’s April, but it feels like December in the UK!

We’re not the only group reading it – it’s the Cityread London book choice, and book groups and individuals all over London will be reading it at the same time. Find out more about Cityread London, including loads of events for all ages throughout the capital.

Have you read it? Will you read it? And… is it any good?!?

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Posted on March 27, 2013, in A Week in December, Sebastian Faulks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. SIMON wILLIAMS

    I read this book about a year ago and thought it was an ingenious peice of writing linking all the different characters in an attempt to give a picture of what happens in a huge city like London with it’s vastly contrasting lifestyles and citizens. The description of the complete lack of any morals or concern for his fellow man by the loathsome super rich banker seemed very accurate of that type.It is because of people like him that we are in the mess we are now in.

  2. I hope April does not turn to really be like a week in December!! Temperature wise. I have not read the book and am looking forward to it!

  3. I heard there were free copies available – how do we get one? Or is it too late?

    • If you call into your local london library you should be able to pick up a free copy. You may be asked to leave your name and contact details and asked to submit a comment on the book to Texttribe in Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries. Not too hard a task – hurry while stocks last!

  4. Thanks – will do 🙂

  5. I picked up the book in my Westminster library yesterday… big display, plenty available.
    Reading the first couple of chapters I was struck at what a similar format it is to John Lanchester’s Capital, which I have just finished for my main bookclub. Almost identical characters, etc, but much more literary than Capital, where some characters were a bit ‘soapish’, almost cartoon versions of the banker, footballer, terrorist, etc. Looking forward to this one. What a great initiative this is in this age of austerity and gloom!

  6. How’s it going, everybody? Anyone finished it yet?

  7. I was given this book in Mayfair library. Some of this I liked a lot: particularly the dinner party at the end which was well handled, with excellent dialogue. On a smaller scale, I loved the cyclist with no lights who appeared out of nowhere – a random, film-type device. The ending was superb – Veals looking over London and laughing. A kind of mockery of human life and hope. This echoed Hassan’s laughter after turning his back on terrorism. Both these characters are (or were) bent on destruction, one in the name of money, the other, religion, so there was a nice parallel there.

    Some of the dialogue was cracking and Roger Malpasse’s attack on Veals at the dinner party was superb. Among the characters, Jenni, Knocker, Hassan, Vanessa and R Tranter were particularly well done. Knocker, I think, is possibly the key character in the novel: pragmatic, likeable and with a life built on solid values.

    Critics seem to have singled out Veals as the most vivid character: R Tranter, to my mind, is the most interesting, as, apart from his vivid array of human characteristics and gift for wild comedy, he seemed to say something about Faulks’s attitude to his craft, and his quality as a very precise ‘English’ kind of writer in the tradition of say Evelyn Waugh. There’s something riotous, off the wall and fogeyish about Tranter (I love the ‘faintly sneering edge to his voice’) but I think Faulks has a problem tearing himself away from these characteristics to embrace the new reality of London life – and from the small pond of British publishing that he represents. The grammatical joke about the Girls From Behind song (‘Between You and I’) shows that Faulks is happy to take a lofty view of his characters and of pop culture generally.

    In some ways, I think the subject matter needs a different perspective and would like to have read this book as written by, say, a writer from a different background to Faulks. Maybe a Rushdie. Maybe Martin Amis in his Money days – rather than embrace the English tradition, Amis made a point of turning to America for a bigger, brasher style that freed him from the English corset. Faulks could have freed himself in the same way.

    Faulks covers a lot of ground in terms of ideas – from mental health to finance, the decay of diary journalism, natural selection and Islam, although I don’t know how reliable or accurate Gabriel’s criticisms are – and does a good job in weaving the separate stories together but I needed help with the financial information relating to Veals, and the technical jargon. He could have written this more in general terms, but with equal gusto. As I say, Roger Malpasse’s demolition job was superb.

    One question, though: why is Veals Jewish and does this matter? As he’s the villain of the piece, I think it does and I wonder what Faulks is telling us here.

    • We considered alot of your comments in our reading group – they were interesting starting points for our discussion. The cyclist being like a film-type device was a novel idea, and we agreed the dialogue at the dinner and Rogers attack on Veals was brilliant, we werent so convinced that Tranter was the most interesting or that Knocker was the key character and decided it didn’t matter that Veals was Jewish. We ran out of time to think why it might have. Thanks for all your comments – very helpful!

  8. I think it’s interesting that Richard mentioned Lancaster’s Capital, as the similarities are striking, but I really preferred Capital by a significant margin!

  9. I read this right through, because, having started it, I wanted to see how the author would bring this diverse group of characters together to a conclusion. While I enjoyed the book and its interlinking of the different characters, in the event I didn’t feel that the ending fully met up to my anticipations and presumptions of how events would unfold. However I was inspired to suggest an alternative version.
    As above, I thought all the main characters would be together in some final scenario, rather like the summing up scene at the end of an Agatha Christie book. As the book progressed, the hospital that was to be the bombers target looked like the potential venue. But it was not to be. Several characters came together at the Toppings dinner party, as we knew all along that they would, but then they did not interact with Hassan and his fellow would-be suicide bombers, and played no further part in the story. Although I expected all along that Hassan’s suicide attack would not take place, the way in which he ended up aborting the mission seemed a bit contrived and missed the chance of linking in with, or being influenced by some of the other characters.
    My alternative ending:
    With the hospital as the bombers target this seems the best venue for a final showdown. I would have it as a general main hospital rather than one specifically for psychiatric patients. We already have Hassan and co. coming to detonate their bombs, John Veals, his wife and son have been present – the latter is there as a patient following his drug taking. Tube driver Jenni Fortune visits along with Gabriel Northwood who comes to visit his brother – also a patient there.
    Now let us suppose all the guests at the Toppings dinner party get taken ill with food poisoning – salmonella perhaps, and get taken to this same hospital as patients. This conveniently brings them into the location. All except Gabriel Northwood – he could be excepted as being a vegetarian or vegan so not eating the source of the infection. Now also suppose Hassan’s friend Shahla has taken a part-time job as a receptionist at the hospital. She has told him that she has taken a job but not where.
    Hassan turns up at the hospital entrance with his rucksack containing the detonators. The suicide bombers are to arrive separately and then meet up in the gents toilets to prime the bombs. To Hassan’s surprise and shock he comes face to face with Shahla at reception. She greets him and asks if he has come to visit his parents. He is shocked and horrified – he has had a text message that his parents were taken ill at the party and admitted to hospital but he didn’t know it was to here they had come. Neither did he know Shahla was working here. In confusion and shock he panics and decides he cannot go ahead with the attack. He suffers this ‘hyperglycaemia’ attack and faints. Shahla and others remove his rucksack and try to revive him as he babbles words of confession and remorse. Then one of the other bombers arrives followed by Jenni Fortune and Gabriel Northwood, together visiting his brother again. The bomber rushes forward to try and grab Hassans rucksack, knocking Jenni over as he does so. Enraged, Gabriel dives after him and brings him to ground with a rugby tackle. The bomber is restrained by Gabriel and football manager Mehmet Kundak, just arrived to visit his player Spike who is one of the other patients recovering from food poisoning. Mehmet remarks that if he had been a rugby club manager rather than a football manager he would have signed Gabriel there and then for that tackle. Shahla calls the police who arrive at the same time as the other suicide bombers all of whom are arrested.
    Gabriel is a hero – at least in Jenni’s eyes.
    As for John Veals – because he is in a hospital bed, sedated and recovering from food poisoning, a factor he could not have predicted in making his meticulous plans, he is unable to finish a vital part in causing the ARB bank to collapse. Instead, he himself will face heavy financial losses and will also find he has hefty private medical bills to meet for his son’s long-term treatment. Poetic justice prevails?.

    • I just love your ending – although I am not convinced that Gabriel being so very thin would be able to rugby tackle anyone, and the idea of John Veals not succeeding is very appealing.
      Anyone else got some alternative ending to novels?

  10. A Week in December was one of our reading group choices last year. I won’t speak for the group but I will say it wasn’t to everyone’s taste! The book has a wonderfully loathsome villain in John Veals (great name), a scheming and possibly sociopathic hedge-fund manager, but I felt some of the more promising strands of the story were under-used. The Polish footballer doesn’t get much of a look-in, for example. There were moments of dry humour I very much enjoyed although I’m not convinced the novel captures much of the heart and soul of the city.

  11. I was given A Week in December to read by my local library and knew Sebastian Faulks mainly for his novel The Devil May Care. Aware of his track record I set out to expect a good read, but found that there were a variety of different threads addressed chapter by chapter which I think would have been told better as a film. Just as I was engrossing myself in one character and their story, there was a hasty jump to a different theme in the next part of the saga which simply didn’t seem to match up. So, I think it is well written in terms of word usage and grammar, but could do with a bit more character development – that goes for all the characters, and needs a few hints and comments to join all the threads much earlier on in the book. Or am I expecting too much spoonfeeding? I have put it aside to re-read when I have more time to devote to getting my head around the overall plot.

  1. Pingback: Cityread London – an April to remember | Books & the City

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