Shortly after the release of A Week in December, reviewers were debating whether Sebastian Faulks had managed to write a "state of the nation" book or at least a "state of West London" novel, as some described it. Some had problems with the multi-threaded plot or did not quite believe some of the characters, such as amoral hedge fund manager John Veals or venomous critic R. Tranter.
For my part, I've actually met people who come close to the characters conjured up by Faulks -- for example, an R. Tranter equivalent of the music world. The key difference to real life, though, is that Faulks has made the encounter with his creatures highly enjoyable; his seven-day cruise through pre-Christmas London life is hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time.
The novel's key insight, dramatised in intricately interwoven subplots, is the profound effect of virtualisation and commercialisation on nearly every aspect of life: he describes an economy ruptured by byzantine financial derivatives, entertainment corrupted by "reality" TV shows that are anything but, and relationships outsourced to social networks and "fantasy" games.
Faulks achieves this without the patronising, sour-grape undertone that is the widespread hallmark of social commentary, spicing up his narrative with a few well-aimed digs at the celebrity scene: which multi-adopting dark-haired actress might lurk behind "Evelina Belle?" And which "Girls From Behind" singer moonlights as a juror on a popular reality show? Certainly, the youth of a nation beholden to such idols must be in trouble -- easy victims for drug addiction and Islamic radicalism.
In the end, readers' expectations are defied as most of the subplots close on an upbeat note. Key characters find redemption or even fulfilment by rediscovering the qualities that truly made them feel alive and real. Even the heartless hedge fund manager concludes that he is "alive to the spirit of his time, the one who hears the whispers of the wind." And in A week in December, the author comes close as well.