A Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks

Set over the course of a week in late 2007, just before the financial crash, the book switches between the PoV of six or so main characters whose stories interlink and/or provide different perspectives on the same events.

I got this after watching the TV adaptation of "Capital", and reading a review of that which compared it to A Week in December. I can see the similarities. I can't speak for the book of Captical, but I enjoyed this book quite a bit more than the TV series.

It reminded me a bit of Jonathan Coe - although it was a little less leavened by humour than something like The Closed Circle which is perhaps the most similar.

One of the main characters is John Veals, a hedge fund manager, who is exactly how you (if you were cynical) would (like to) imagine all hedge fund managers: completely ruthless, interested only in making money, which appears to be an end in itself: he has no apparent interest in family or friends or any of the material things which his wealth would allow him to buy. In a way it was satisfying to have one's prejudices about this type of person confirmed in the book, but:

There’s a TV programme that is referred to here called "It’s Madness"(?) which puts people who have various mental illnesses into a house and watches how they interact, giving them tasks to do etc. in a way that is even worse than Big Brother. It’s so obviously an outrageous caricature that it made me worried that other bits of the book, such as the behaviour of the financial trader John Veals, were also over-the-top portrayals. The worry was because I relished the descriptions of Veals because it made me feel righteous in my disdain for people who work in those jobs, and I didn’t want to feel that my disdain was not entirely justified.

I made mental notes of some nice bits: the Indian businessman who built up a pickle company in Yorkshire is described as having an accent with "Yorkshire vowels and Kashmiri consonants" (the audiobook narrator didn't quite do this, but I thought it was a really nice description).

One of the more sympathetic characters is Gabriel, a strugging solicitor who gets involved with one of his clients, Jenny, a tube driver who's having to give testimony about London Underground's safety procedures after a suicide jumped in front of her train. He talks to Jenny about a previous relationship he'd had with a married woman, who had eventually decided to move to America with her husband and children, breaking off the relationship with Gabriel. Jenny says "She did the right thing". Gabriel answers, "She did A right thing". I need to remember that answer.

I liked very much the relationship between Gabriel and Jenny, which seemed to be very realistically done: because it wasn't all roses and happiness, which I sort of thought it might be (as a way of having some light relief to counter the gloom of John Veals). Jenny likes playing VR games but Gabriel disapproves of these quite strongly (so much that I worried, when he starts criticising her interest, that the relationship would founder).

At the end of the book, there's a dinner party where someone lectures Veals and basically says that the reason for the banking crisis was because of people like Veals who deliberately bet on, not to say caused, the banking collapse and made millions out of it that would have to be paid back by taxpayers. I can't help thinking this is oversimplifying although I would like it to be true and so it's rather satisfying to have this point of view expressed so confidently and have Veals unable to refute it.

Although... a couple of weeks after finishing this book, I read The Big Short, which (unless it's oversimplifying), says pretty much the same thing..

Anyway, I really enjoyed the book and was sorry it ended. Will need to read some more Faulks.

Picked up a copy in the charity shop and read it again. After the first two pages I felt myself settling down as if in a comfy armchair, relishing the story I'm about to be told. Brilliant.

Completed : 23-Jan-2016 (audiobook)

Completed : 18-Oct-2018

[nickoh] [2016 books] [2018 books] [books homepage]