Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Disaffection doesn't pay... (Books - A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks)

Hmmm, so much for checking in... Returned today from points both Mid Atlantic and Midwest. A little road trip starting in Wisconsin, through Illinois and Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, ending up in Pennsylvania at a great little log cabin/b&b. Much seeing of friends and family, (and one fellow book blogger!), and a little bit of post-semester relaxation on our own as well.

It should be no surprise that I managed to read (and find) a few books as well! Despite the fact that things did not turn out precisely the way I thought they would in my first post on Sebastian Faulks's A Week in December, my opinion did not change much as I read the remainder of the novel. The segments concentrating on each of the broad cast of characters were lengthy enough to flesh out their circumstances with some care, but I found the novel carelessly repetitive of details - even if it was just at the level of two completely different characters eating the same dinner (pasta and orange juice). The most interesting development was the theme of alienation that is the crux of this novel. Faulks compares one character's schizophrenic delusions:
"His belief in his world was more secure than my belief in ours. I mean, I feel pretty sure that you are sitting here and that your name is Jenni and my name is Gabriel and that this is London, that's a window and so on. But I do have room for doubt... That's the difference. Adam has no doubt. His cosmos is fully understood. He receives instruction from voices whose reality is stronger than mine is to you..."
With another's involvement in the allure of Muslim fundamentalism, with another's involvement in the world of virtual relationships in an on-line game, with yet another's investment in credit default swaps:
"Then the bank was laying off its own risk anyway. And They still had plenty of buyers for this shit, some of whom were happy to take it in derivative form. So for the bank the dodgy part is now cash-neutral and risk free."

"This is fantasy," said Wetherby.

Veals's lips twitched. as though they wanted to smile. "That not all. Now this is the tricky bit, Siomon. Concentrate. Get through this and you can go and ring Susanna Russell from HSBC and take her out to lunch. After this bit, it's all laughts. OK. The thing is that every time Johnny wrote me or others like me an insurance on a triple-B bunch of shit, he effectively created a new security. Then he put all these securities - the credit default swaps - into a new synthetic bond, which he could then trade on! More commission, more profit, and the market goes on. It's fantastic...The only asset backing this synthetic bond was my side bet with the bank. Trouble was, there seemed to be no liquidity in these synthitic CDOs. They stuck to the banks' fingers."

"Christ, John," said Wetherby. "It sound like this fantasy football game my son plays. Does your son do that?"
So what do you think. Is Wetherby a well integrated character whose life we care a great deal for at the novel's end, or is he a throw-away character whose soul purpose is to allow this narration to serve as a thinly veiled expository economics lesson? If you chose the second option, you would agree with my reading of this novel.

That's what A Week in December added up to for me. Lots of thin devices trying to do their well-intentioned duty on a checklist of current affairs topics: reality TV, on-line gaming, credit default swaps, and disaffected youth being drawn to Muslim fundamentalist cells and becoming willing to sacrifice their lives in acts that terrorize the innocent. It's hard to write an entertaining novel about disaffection, and Faulks succeeds in doing that, but only barely. I trudged through it dutifully, I'm not even sure why. Perhaps because Faulks has a talent for creating characters who come to life through the details through which he wrought them. And that's no mean feat - two points for that - but in the end I found A Week in December's ambitions in integrating each and every concern of our daily lives overwhelmed the craft of involving those characters in compelling circumstances that felt real. The novel never really unlocked that door after which reading becomes an effortless flow.

I also read Ryszard Kapuscinski's Travels with Herodotus - a beautiful travel book to accompany my own travels. More on that in the next day or two.

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