Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December (2009)
This novel follows a group of characters during the week preceding a large dinner party held in London at the end of 2007. Two narrative lines are developed in detail. A young man has joined a group of young Muslims planning an act of terror that may impact on the lives of other characters, while a hedge fund trader in the City plots a complicated takeover of a bank that involves spreading false rumours and will bring ruin to many farmers in Africa.
The novel confronts us with good and evil. Towards the end two couples we approve of drive away from the dinner party content with the evening and each other; two other, more central pairs whose members have been moving towards each other seem on their way to finding happiness together, and we wish them well. Faulks has an affection for many of his characters that we cannot help come to share. On the other hand, someone we have been led to despise (an uneasy sense of his being based on a real person hangs over this character) enjoys unexpected and undeserved good fortune, and the villain, despite the wreckage of his family life, shows a sign of happiness of which his wife had never thought him capable.
The novel has been described as Dickensian. While it’s much shorter than most of Dickens’ novels, there’s certainly a wonderful kind of Dickensian thick description of London and close attention to the problems afflicting contemporary society, among them drugs and mental illness. But I’d rather place it next to the London novels of Iris Murdoch and Ian McEwan. Rather than dealing with people coping with serious poverty and oppressive social structures, this is a middle class range of characters who deal with problems that are largely the result of the choices they have made. Despite the occurrence of unforeseen events, these people have free will, which they exercise to their own peril and that of those around them. The range of moral decisions they take makes this a most satisfying novel.