Sebastian Faulks’ canvas is so vast in his new novel A Week in December that I found myself on page 39, on the London Underground, one of the “tourists with their wheeled luggage and their rucksacks. They chattered as they pored over guidebooks, glanced up at the Tube map overhead, trying to reconcile the two. What false picture of a city did these people have? Veals wondered. Their London was a virtual one, unknown to residents — Tower and Dungeon, veteran West End musicals and group photographs beneath the slowly turning Eye.”
Veals, the man watching his fellow passengers, is a villainous hedge-fund manager and one of a handful of fully-fleshed protagonists in this Tom Wolfesque satire that takes place over seven days in 2007 in Britain’s crowded capital city. Others include Hassan, a Scottish Muslim student and terrorist-in-training; Gabriel, an introspective lawyer with a mentally ill brother; R. Trant, , a book critic who despises successful writers; and Jenni Fortune, the subway driver on the Circle Line who plays video games and “reads with indiscriminate glee.”
Faulks has both a gleeful and disquieting time connecting these characters and their relatives, friends and neighbors with intertwining storylines as Veals plots the fall of a bank and Hassan buys the ingredients for a bomb. It’s as if Faulks himself is riding the Eye, sharply observing the city’s sprawling, diverse populace with a telescope, but one that also pierces the surface of skin and ground to discern motive, opportunity and desire. Money makes this world go round — or does it?
Open Book: I received a bound galley of A Week in December (Doubleday) as part of a web promotion. I also once spent a chilly week in December in London, although not in 2007. But I rode the Circle Line and saw some West End shows.