three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
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A-A Week in December.epsEnglish novelist Sebastian Faulks joined the Independent's staff as a literary editor in 1986. He is best known for his historical novels, including Charlotte Gray (1998), which was made into a movie starring Cate Blanchett in 2002, and an authorized James Bond installment, Devil May Care ( 2.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2008).

The Story: In the seven days leading up to Christmas 2007, a time of terrorist fear and financial panic, the ambitious wife of a newly elected Member of Parliament decides to host an elaborate holiday party. Her carefully handpicked guests will find their lives transformed in unexpected ways. John Veals, a greedy hedge fund manager, plots to bring down a major international bank, while Pakistani chutney manufacturers Farooq and Nasim al-Rashid, preoccupied by the royal honors they are about to receive, are unaware that their son Hassan has joined a group of violent Islamic fundamentalists. A malicious book critic, a lonely young barrister, and a Polish soccer player round out the guest list, and all must come to terms with the brutal realities of modern life.
Doubleday. 392 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780385532914

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A Week in December, in lesser hands, would be a hopeless mishmash, a soup of too many characters to make any sense. But it isn't in lesser hands, it's held and shaped by Sebastian Faulks; the resulting novel reflects the tumultuous present with both humor and a scathing sensibility." Robin Vidimos

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With its knowing nods to Trollope, Dickens and Tom Wolfe, A Week in December--his ninth work of full-length fiction--is a formally ambitious, intelligently entertaining, rather provocative novel of contemporary manners. ... Not all these characters are as well-developed as one might wish, but Faulks ... has a reporter's keen eye for telling details and a propulsive mastery of narrative that takes full advantage of a structure that, in hands less sure, might come across as a trifle too pat." Tim Rutten

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is a testament to the book's manifold virtues that the fragility of [the Veals and Hassan] story lines does not prevent A Week in December from being well worth reading. ... The book's central virtue, however, is its grand portrait of a city where the virtual is replacing the real, where Dickensian grit is being supplanted by the pixilated glow of millions of LED screens." Stephen Amidon

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"All of this might have been good anti-bourgeois fun, along the lines of recent novels by Jonathan Dee (The Privileges) and Adam Haslett (Union Atlantic) that also feature criminal financiers, if Faulks hadn't confused the moral calculus by introducing terrorism into the story. It's hard to take Veals seriously as a supervillain--Dr. Evil with an M.B.A.--when Hassan is commuting to France to buy explosives." Gregory Cowles

Seattle Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, many of the stories lack interest and vibrancy. ... In its effort to demonstrate that ‘society as a whole ... has so lost its bearing that it was prepared to believe ... that cause and effect could be uncoupled,' the novel tries to cover too much territory." Robert Allen Papinchak

Critical Summary

With clever nods to Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Tom Wolfe, Faulks combines a sharp eye for detail with an astute understanding of human nature to create a rich, human novel of contemporary manners. Though he provides a captivating account of London, the Los Angeles Times mused that, with a few minor changes, the characters could have been the denizens of any major city, so pervasive are the dilemmas they face. Moreover, critics pointed out that some of Faulks's characters and subplots are "undercooked" (Washington Post) and the glut of financial detail weighs down the narrative. However, it is a testament to Faulks's skill that, despite these missteps, A Week in December is mostly a compelling and sympathetic critique of modern life.