I first fell in love with Sebastian Faulks' writing when I read Birdsong years ago. It was a poignant evocation of the First World War, which still rates as one of my all-time favourite books. In Birdsong, a love story quietly unfolded and we saw deeply into the two main characters of the book.
A Week in December is completely different. It's contemporary, set in December 2007. And instead of a leisurely pace centred on a couple of characters, this book careens through a week in early December 2007, with the diverse characters converging toward a dinner party they will attend together, as well as other potentially explosive convergences.
The characters include an amoral, avaricious hedge fund manager; a odious book reviewer with a caustic wit; a neglected teen with a drug habit; a gullible young Muslim jihadist; a struggling young barrister; a shy, book-loving Tube driver who loves to read and play online reality games.
The book also takes us on some detours to explain modern financial markets - in fact it does a better job than the recent movie Inside Job. Faulks' biting description of the financial markets and the venal people who inhabit them is very well done. Goldbag, Moregain, and Lemon Brothers are some of the firms treated to his bitter satire.
The satire in the book extends beyond the financial system. Education comes in for a beating. One character explains why he actually knows something about the world. "I suppose I was lucky enough to be educated at a time when teachers still thought children could handle knowledge. They trusted us. Then there came a time when they decided that because not every kid in the class could understand or remember those things, they wouldn't teach them any more because it wasn't fair on the less good ones. So they withheld knowledge. Then I suppose the next lot of teachers didn't have the knowledge to withhold."
Another character felt "almost sympathetic to the Americans. They had been so shaken by the Twin Towers that they no longer knew what they were doing. The country had had a nervous breakdown with the wrong man at the helm; their hapless president was an ex-drunk without a map and almost, it seemed, without an education."