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.

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Testimony by Anita Shreve is a psychological thriller. There are authors you come to rely on to deliver consistency. For me,  Massachusetts-born Anita Shreve is one such author. I don’t think I have yet been disappointed by any of her novels.

Pack an Anita Shreve novel in your bag when you are heading off on on holiday and you are guaranteed a couple of hours entertainment.

Difficult themes

Shreve’s themes are often difficult and she will make you question your values and judgments so although the novels are easy to read, they do not always make for comfortable reading.

That said, the stories are compelling and well told.

I particularly like her earlier books like The Weight of Water and Fortune’s Rocks.

Published more recently, Testimony, is about a sex scandal in a New England school. At its heart is a shocking incident that takes place in the school. The story unfolds from the way in which the incident is discovered and handled by the school authorities and others. It is told from the perspective of the various characters caught up in and affected by the fallout. Interesting and challenging, Testimony will make you think.

If you like the sound of Testimony, you might also like The Lives of Stella Bain.