State of the Nation or just A Dinner Party

Having come to the end of Sebastian Faulks ‘A Week in December’, a title reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s similarly named ‘Saturday’, I’m not convinced of its label as the ‘state of the nation’ novel of the 21st century, though it does provide an interesting glimpse into the media focus of the first decade.  It is the week before Sophie Topping is to hold a dinner party for her politician husband and during the days leading up to the event, we observe the lives of some of the guests and the issues confronting them, real and imagined.

Jenni Fortune isn’t one of the dinner party guests; she is a London underground train driver with a court case pending over a jumper (suicide) survivor, whose parents are claiming negligence. Representing her case, Gabriel is one of the few non-millionaire/billionaires attending the dinner party (not quite a typical dinner party then). Jenni spends her evenings in an online ‘parallel universe’, while Gabriel’s brother Adam lives in a psychiatric facility with what seem like very real voices, a remnant of his recreational drug induced schizophrenia.

John Veals is a fortunes trader living in another alternate universe, one that will have a greater impact on the world, though none of it traced back to him. He is a deal maker for the thrill of it and oblivious to much else that doesn’t impact on his game. Like the film ‘The Inside Job’, it is disturbing to absorb such blind obsession without heed for its devastating consequences. His reclusive son Finn is fine tuning his own fascination for gambling, participating in a fantasy football team, while his mother, more concerned with appearances, is reluctant to intrude on her son’s perceived need for privacy.

A second generation Pakistani family, their fortune made in lime pickle, will also be present; their son Hassan has been given everything but feels like an outsider. Searching for purity, he judges how others spend their lives and is disappointed with himself when he experiences reluctant joy in the same things. He finds solace with a group of young Muslim radicals, while Finn finds it with expensive drugs, reality TV and his football.

Through the lives of these dinner guests, we observe how people communicate and interact; many have lost their social graces and ability to openly and honestly connect or to even know each other. People live in different worlds, yet in the same world, disconnected. Similarly, global interconnectedness has become a complex mirage of companies, names, contracts and invisible links between banks, traders, importers, middle men, the many who work in the in-between world where nothing is actually made or produced, but where vast fortunes are skimmed off before the reality of this invisible transactional world is exposed, too late seen for the bluff that it was which will then be paid for by those in the real but mundane economy who will lose their jobs, pay higher taxes, while the government bails out those all-important ‘bonus winning’ gamblers bankers.

Ironically, just as I finished reading this, I hear on the news that HSBC, who has been fined £10 million by the FSA for mis-selling financial products to elderly and disabled clients, has decided to hit back on bonuses. One almost wonders if it is a public relations strategy, such little faith we have left in these grandiose institutions.

I haven’t mentioned the snarky book reviewer, indeed references to books abound and you will be endlessly entertained finding parallels between the worlds these characters inhabit. It offers an insight into a few not quite typical London characters, the makings of a terrorist and the arrogance of the financial markets.

And now, a welcome escape into magic realism and the snows of Alaska, watch this space for ‘The Snow Child’ coming soon…

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8 thoughts on “State of the Nation or just A Dinner Party

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. I read some reviews on it and some people compare it to Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. The only difference is the time period. I willl definitely keep it in mind although I’m not particulary interested by the financial sector.

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    • It’s being compared to a few ‘State of the Nation’ epics, I think its a little early to judge what this century will be noted for, but it certainly depicts the state of the media in the first decade, though perhaps less of the lives of those who aren’t media worthy.

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  2. There are a lot of stories in that netherworld where the skimming takes place, and unfortunately with a significant impact on those most vulnerable. America is in a stage now where forces battle for the country’s soul, and it’s anyone’s guess who will prevail. A timely work, by the sounds of it.

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  3. I’m a little late to the dinner party . . . ha ha. I tried changing my subscription e-mail preference but it clearly didn’t work (i.e., I wasn’t notified that you had a new post up). Seems I had to unsubscribe, then re-subscibe with my preferred e-mail. A curious book, indeed to sandwich between ‘The Woman in Black’ and ‘The Snow Child.’

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    • Good observation Deborah, I started this a while ago and then when Susan Hill’s book arrived, I immediately started on that. I was tempted by Faulks after reading Carol Apple’s review of the Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Way we Live Now’ which is cited as one of the ‘state of the nation’ books in the blurb, but oh my, ‘The Snow Child’, now this is really my kind of book, am already seeing parallels with ‘The Woman in Black’, still trying to understand what it is that draws me so to this style, the – is it real or is it not, fable-like genre.

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  4. I think you are from New Zealand? I wonder if you have read ‘The Colour’ by Rose Tremain. I brought a random heap of books back to France from Oxfam books and have been glued to this all week. I love Rose Tremain’s writing – wonderful poetic descriptions in support of strong characters and narrative. This particular novel is set in mid 19thc South Island during the gold-rush – fascinating and highly recommended.

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    • Yes, I was born in NZ. I have a few of Rose Tremain’s books and enjoyed them, but I have not read this one, intriguing. And found in one of my favourite shopping spots on trips back to the UK 🙂 Thanks for the tip Lynne.

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