A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks aims to be a state of the nation novel.

Set in London, the novel follows the stories of a number of different characters who are bound together by their connection to a dinner party being hosted by one of them. Some of the individual story lines are more interesting than others. The portrayal of, John Veals, the banker is one of the stronger elements and one where the author’s research genuinely adds to the telling of the tale. I also enjoyed the barrister character, Gabriel and his schizophrenic brother. Less appealing are the footballer and some of the others.

Distractions

The trouble is that with so many different story lines in the same novel, you never really get to know as much as you might like to and, in the end, the individual stories don’t really gel as a whole. There is also the distraction of some allusions to the virtual world – Parralax for Second Life, for example – that somehow get in the way without really adding to the tale.

For me, this was a staccato and ultimately disappointing read. If you have never read Sebastian Faulks, I would not suggest starting with this novel but, because he is a writer capable of great works, like Birdsong, I would definitely recommend that you have him on your list. If, like me, you are a fan, then I do think it is worth giving A Week in December a go and I’d be interested to know what you make of it.

See also A Possible Life.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife so when I heard that Audrey Niffenegger had a new book out, I was excited at the prospect of reading Her Fearful Symmetry. Then, before I had a chance to buy the book, I read some reviews that put me off by suggesting  it didn’t live up to the earlier novel. So, with many other contenders on my ‘must read’ list, it was several months before Her Fearful Symmetry crossed my mind again. Thankfully, I bought it and over the last couple of days I’ve had the chance to read it.

Quirky

It is quirky, complicated story involving twins, identity and the supernatural with Highgate Cemetry (is there a pun in ‘symmetry’?) playing a central role. The reader is asked to suspend disbelief in a novel that is well written but where the plot is perhaps not as strong  as it might have been. That said, my immediate reaction, having just finished American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, was one of enormous relief such as only comes when you can allow yourself to relax knowing you are in the hands of a trusted and accomplished writer. It’s not that The American Wife was a bad book, but it was a book that to me seemed to drift and lose its way. It is pure joy to find a book that you just don’t want to put down and, for me at least, Her Fearful Symmetry is in that category.

Yes it’s true that the ending is perhaps not satisfactory but few other writers have Niffenegger’s ingenuity of imagination. She startles but she does so with the finesse of literary talent making her a joy to read. Yes, this novel takes a turn that may not appeal – although to be fair, it has something in common with the literary novels of a similar genre that it alludes to in the text. But whether or not you like the twist of the tale, it is an engaging read. I, for one, am looking forward to Ms Niffenegger’s next book.

The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson and Martin Dugard

In common with many children of my generation, I went through a phase of being fascinated by ancient Egypt and watched the various movies that were around in the 70s and 80s inspired by Egyptology. So the story of Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen is reasonably familiar to me.

An easy read

The Murder of King Tut is an easy read – ostensibly non-fiction it read more like fiction to me and the best parts of the tale in my opinion are the sections describing the relationship between Nefertiti and her husband, and later between Tutankhamen and his sister/wife.

The Howard Carter story line seemed to lack depth of character while the interjections of Patterson’s own reactions and observations, including those on his femme fatale wife, seemed to add little to the overall telling of the tale.

Short chapters and wide margins make for a quick read. I found The Murder of King Tut enjoyable – a good holiday read but perhaps not to be taken too seriously.