Are they delusional or just sympathetic? The characters in Sebastian Faulks’ novel A Week in December appear to be both. The narrative encompasses a number of alternative realities, from the online Parallax universe of Jenni Fortuneto the marijuana-fueled haze of Finn Veals’s teenage world. Each of these secondary worlds exists outside of the ‘real world’ of present-day London, but all demonstrate an attempt to escape the more alarming and disturbing reality of modern society. The most successful, and perhaps most realistic, of these alternative realities is the Fantasy Finance world of John Veals. The greedy financier ignores the needs of his family and the harmful effects of his financial policies on the community as a whole. He flaunts his mathematical prowess in order to demonstrate his intellectual dominance and appears disinterested even in the money he makes. In short, Veals is a selfish ass. He’s also the central character within the novel. Marked by a skewed moral compass and a complete lack of empathy, the money manager monopolizes the pages of the novel as author Faulks illustrates the workings of his backwards mind.
Potentially problematic to the success of any novel is a major character without any redeeming characteristics. A narrative such as A Week in December, which lacks a central protagonist, especially risks losing readership by continuously returning to an off-putting personality like Veals. Where’s the happy ending? Where are the consequences for his greed and insensitivity? Veals’s son Finbar appears as the most direct recipient of this falsified family structure. Finn, armed with more cash than he knows what to do with and no parental guidance, overdoses on a dangerous drug compound. Yet even the near-death experience of his son fails to motivate the elder Veals to change his ways. Without spoiling the plot, the novel ends with Veals alone and content in his self-indulgence, sans remorse or retribution.
How could I enjoy such a novel? This is where the genius of author Sebastian Faulks emerges. The secondary reality Faulks builds for Veals appears closer to actual reality than is initially evident—Veals may be a despicable character, but he closely mirrors Wall Street tycoons during the early 2000s. The novel becomes a relevant treatise on modern social strata. Examples of other alternate realities include the online gaming system that mimics modern-day London and the competitive literati world inhabited by failed novelist R. Tranter. Each of these secondary worlds makes the novel relatable to its readers rather than putting a neat bow on modern dynamics of culture. The result is a narrative that both allows for a sense of escapism from the ‘real world’ and realistically reminds readers of its relevancy in contemporary society.