After reading Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Sebastian Faulks’ homage to P.G. Wodehouse, I jumped on this author’s bandwagon, reading A Possible Life and A Week in December in quick succession.
A Week in December is told over the course of a week in December 2007, in London. A politician’s wife is organising a dinner party, a hedge-fund manager works to carry out a trade so big that it will take down a number of banks, a wealthy business man prepares to be honoured with an OBE, a Polish footballer tries to fit in to his new club, a young lawyer hopes for some clients, a teenage boy risks his mental health for his drug addiction, a jaded book reviewer allows his jealousy of fiction-writers to get the better of him, a young woman risks falling in love and a young Muslim man who should know better uses Islamic theory to justify belonging to a group who plan to bomb a London hospital.
You may be able to tell from my previous sentence that A Week in December had too much going on, too many characters and too many stories. I couldn’t keep track of them all and would have preferred to follow just one or two of the stronger character’s stories.
I also struggled to believe in all of the characters. For example, Hassan, the would-be suicide-bomber, is from a wealthy industrialist English-Pakistani family, has loving parents and has had an excellent (English) education. Really? Maybe my view of terrorists is stereotyped, but I don’t think they usually spring from this particular set of circumstances. Another character, a businessman who is to be awarded the OBE hires the book reviewer to teach him about books, in case he and the Queen get into a conversation about literature. Again, really? Where did that come from? Successful business people are usually socially adept and unlikely to do anything so silly. On the other hand, I did believe in Jenni, the train driver, who after work reads novels and plays an internet game where her alter-ego lives the life that Jenni wishes she lived.
While telling the story, the author gave pages and pages of explanations about hedge-fund trading, the mechanics of driving a train, the connection between drugs and schizophrenia, and how terrorists find each other, make and execute their plans. The research must have been interesting for the author, but I felt as if his learnings were too obviously used in this book.
I also felt as if one of the character’s lack of respect for the Koran was too clumsily used as a tool to disparage Islam. Maybe the author hoped a would-be terrorist would read A Week in December and be swayed by this character’s argument that the Koran was bombastic, sexist and unlikely to present a true version of what happens to a terrorist after death. If so, great. However, I expect most Muslim readers would be offended by the use of this character to undermine their religion. I don’t believe in much myself, but I do understand that faith is believing in something which can’t be proved to exist, which is not unique to any religion.
I loved Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, liked A Possible Life and disliked A Week in December. I’m going to give myself a break from Sebastian Faulks before reading Birdsong by this author, as this story has been highly recommended and I don’t want to spoil it for myself.