Sweeping up after the crash

A Week in December

By Sebastian Faulks

Inspired by the great, sweeping Victorian social commentators, Faulks has written a sweeping Victorian social commentary. A Week in December contains a rich cast from several social strata in London. We follow each in their daily lives at a time of great change for them and their society. Faulks is skilled enough to ensure that the centre of his novel holds, and that each individual character has enough intrigue about them to spur the reader on. There are even many fine moments of humour, when the satire bites. That said, one shouldn’t call this a satirical novel. It contains moments of satire, but it appears that Faulks has not made up his mind to plunge into a sustained, sardonic spoof of modern London life. He has opted for the gentler approach. He has blended classic literary themes with edgy social commentary and pricked them every so often with satire.

I therefore doubt this novel’s effectiveness and its longevity. We may still be reading Dickens and Trollope (or still adapting them for television, at any rate), but in 150 years’ time, I doubt that our descendents will read this Faulks novel in the same way. If anything, they are likely to read it as one of the Victorian imitator novels. That’s not to say it is a bad novel, but it does lack originality. There is no distinctive voice here: most novelists writing about bankers post-2007 will portray hedge fund managers as abominable, albeit enticing, or prospective British suicide bombers as having a moral dilemma, or book reviewers as cartoonish critics who fail to enjoy much of life anymore. Faulks has used his cookie cutter on London because it feels realistic (and it probably is), but it doesn’t shed much light on the real issues here.

This novel points out the flaws in the way we live now; it does not inspire us to think about how to change this. A Week in December is a sweeping Victorian social commentary, but not a great one.

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