Faulks is a well-known and highly regarded writer and I’m not sure how I failed to read any of his books before. This book didn’t put me off him, but also didn’t make me rush out to buy more.
He uses the device of a set period (a week) to tell a complex tale of interacting lives. At first glance his large cast have little or nothing in common – how can a tube-train driver, a teenage wannabe terrorist, a hedge fund manager and an immigrant chutney manufacturer, among others, relate to each other? But they are related in the kind of nebulous social network modern cities foster: A knows B who is suing C who has invited D to E’s dinner party and so on.
Some of the interactions are funny – several of the men have a habit of visiting a soft porn website and ogling pictures of beautiful Olya. They are somewhat confused when she turns up at the dinner party with her footballer boyfriend.
Other relationships are scary. If the terrorist plans succeed not only will several, very vulnerable, people be killed, but a host of so far successful lives will be ruined. The most scary is the hedge fund manager’s plot, which runs as one of the strongest threads through the whole story.
London, the setting for the book, is almost a character in its own right, providing the cast with the semi-public stage they are happy to act on.
Each of these people has their own agenda and storyline, and all of them end in a satisfactory way, but they themselves remain largely ignorant of the effect the week has had on their destinies.
The book is supposed to be a satire on today’s world, and indeed it examines a good deal of modernity. Not only soft porn, but drug taking, high finance, online fantasy worlds, fundamentalism and social insecurity all get a look in.
I personally felt that the satire was fairly superficial and confined itself to a small portion of the population. I preferred to view it as a novel about people whose problems and behaviour wouldn’t be all that different in another time or place. The characters are rounded people whose actions make sense. Their progress through the week and the places they arrive at by the end of it are realistic, and we care what will happen to them.