A Window into the Privileged of London: A Week in December – by Sebastian Faulks

Romance, Tragicomedy

A Week in December is a window into the lives of London’s wealthy. It’s narrated by diverse people connected, directly or through mutual friends, by a dinner party; they’re chosen by the host, socialite Sophie Topping, to reflect well on her husband, the newest Conservative MP Lance Topping. Of the list, a handful at most are not millionaires – including unsuccessful barrister Gabriel Northwood and cynical, bitter book reviewer R. Tranter. The rest are a familiar mix of obnoxious businessmen and their skinny wives, a repugnant TV magnate and a surprisingly endearing Polish footballer who is new to the country. As they go about their daily lives, they emulate the ‘spirit’ of the city, with many of them questioning (or unintentionally urging the reader to question) the lack of purpose in their existences. Although many of these people are not kind or likeable, they’re intriguing; I wanted to know what would happen, what decisions they’d make. More than anything, many of them seem like real people, reminding me of people I know or know of.

I suppose this sensation, along with my new-found cynicism of hedge-funds, is unsurprising; I’m expected to challenge our society and its materialism after finishing Faulks’ satirical, aspiring ‘state of the nation’ novel. Many of Faulks’ characters are stereotypical wealthy Londoners: egotistical, self-important and money-obsessed. I deduce that the ‘moral’ of the book is that, despite their privilege, their lives aren’t happy. No amount of money or insincere socialising can give a life substance or enjoyment. Near the end of the book, during the dinner party, minor character Roger Malpasse drunkenly berates Veals for the ruthless and underhanded practices of the Financial industry, his rant highlighting the pinnacle of Veals’ disgusting personality, demonstrated in hid unrelenting mission to bring down a major bank – and a load of African farmers with it.

At the other end of the spectrum is Hassam al-Rashid, who is a jihad-in-training and son of entrepreneur  Farooq al-Rashid (an invitee of the Topping’s party). In Hassam’s sections of the novel, he broods on the Kafir (consumerist, irreligious) world and its disgusting ways, viewing his terrorist activities as an ever-important mission from God, an escape from impiety. Although I enjoyed his character as a change from the others and an insight into a world I know nothing about, I didn’t find him wholly convincing.

Their cynical, circumspect voices work as within an orchestra to render life in London and its diversity. Many of them are realistic, interesting and even likeable, but there were also some that were unpleasant and desperately boring – in particular, Veals, who gives a shameful face to his business and, most disappointingly, doesn’t change at all during the book. I’m sure he is intended to disappoint, representing everything wrong about the rich of London and their inauthentic means of earning money, but I couldn’t help finding him plain annoying – especially his monotonous descriptions of financial deals.

At times, sentences read disjointedly due to their length and uninteresting subject content, and I wasn’t always compelled to pick the book up. However, after about half way, I started to enjoy it more as I became more hooked into the ‘plot’ (although loose). Overall, A Week in December is a good-quality, well-written book – an interesting commentary on life in London. I can’t, however, guarantee it for ‘grip’ or sustained interest. If you like The Casual Vacancy, or perhaps Ian McEwan’s books, then you’ll love it.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA (7)

Writing: AAAAAAA (7)

Pace: Medium/Slow

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A change from Harry Potter: The Casual Vacancy – By J. K. Rowling

Tragicomedy

When Barry Fairbrother – a popular and ambitious councilman – dies unexpectedly, Pagford is left in shock. The ostensibly quaint, idyllic town, with its ancient abbey and cobbled market square, becomes increasingly chaotic as the mad scramble for the empty council seat turns nasty. Deep-rooted resentment and discontentment fuels teenagers to turn against parents, and incites wives to desert their husbands. Issues that had previously been kept at bay threaten to divide the town, as anger and passion overwhelm some, and the disparity between generations and classes becomes increasingly palpable.

I was riveted by this book, despite its length and relatively mundane premise – perhaps this was because of its ‘closeness to home’: I related to many of the characters; Rowling’s satirical reflections on suburban life are accurate, if not stereotypical. Written in split-narrative, the book relates to all readers: the narrators are of different classes, ages and personalities. The interplays and contradictions that the reader is given is intriguing and often humorous; when characters describe each other, you’re reminded of the gap between the outward and inward ‘selves’ that people have. Overall, it’s a good book, and I enjoyed reading it, however at times I felt it dragged on a bit.

Readers who enjoy a slow paced book about everyday life, as opposed to an other-worldly plot, would enjoy The Casual Vacancy. They would also like it if they like books that don’t have a grand plot; The Casual Vacancy is based on everyday life in the suburbs: familial relationships and social interactions amongst townspeople.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAAA

Writing: AAAAAAA

Pace: Slow

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