After a few early reservations concerning some contrived characterisation and plot, ‘A week in December’ quickly proved to be a gem of a novel, providing both a tense story line, largely credible characters and most important of all, a most thoughtful discourse on what is real and what is illusionary. Sanity and insanity are cleverly juxtaposed until in the end the reader is left to ponder just where the boundaries between the two might actually lie. There is the socially recognised insanity associated with schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders; the more controversial insanity associated with extreme religious fundamentalism, and finally the rarely talked about insanity deriving from an obsession with monetary gain and social status. Add to that mix our growing obsessions with reality TV, drug induced oblivion, and the parallel worlds of online gaming, and we are provided with a sharp examination of contemporary urban life. In fact, each of Faulk’s main characters can be said to be trapped into their own form of insanity and the collisions between them proves to be both illuminating and disturbing.

Faulks is quite brave in that he is prepared to take on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism head on. No Fatwas have been forthcoming as far as I know, and to his credit there is a certain sympathetic tone even when he is at his most forthright. Of Islam, unlike Judaism and Christianity, one of Faulks’ central characters has this to say;

‘Once an early theological debate had decided for all time that the Koran was literally and in every syllable the unmediated word of God, then all Muslims became by definition ‘fundamentalist’. It was by its nature unlike Judaism or Christianity; it was intrinsically, and quite unapologetically, a fundamentalist religion. There was of course a world of difference between ‘fundamental’ and ‘militant’ – let alone ‘aggressive’; but the intractable truth remained: that by being so pure, so high-minded and so uncompromising, Islam had limited the kind of believer it could claim.’ P195

I suspect there is a truth in what Faulks, or at least his character Gabriel, has got to offer, but it is a partial truth. Firstly, when push comes to shove, Judaism and Christianity are equally as didactic as Islam. I think it is hot wired into all three of the Abrahamic religions. Secondly, the other big religions; Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, have all shown themselves over the centuries to be equally as capable as the Abrahamic religions of fundamentalist diktat. Thirdly, and this has to be recognised, given a secular environment, Muslims have increasingly shown themselves to be as adept as other religious devotees in adapting their religious ideas to a more modern, scientific world. To characterise Islam as exclusively fundamentalist is to let the other religions off the hook. They are all, in their childlike belief in an omniscient creator, bound to lapse into a form of fundamentalism when challenged either by an alternative religious doctrine or by a secular and atheistic viewpoint.  All religion, by definition, should be scientifically described as illusionary, delusionary and prone to a fundamentalist outlook.

Counter-posed to the insanity of fundamentalist religion, Faulks offers us the insanity of the unregulated capitalist market and those that have learnt to manipulate that market for their personal gain. The levels of that manipulation are truly staggering. We interchange the words, millions, billions and trillions without fully realising the magnitude of these sums. Faulks brilliantly reminds us of what we are actually dealing with. John Veals, perhaps the central character of the book, is one of those ‘masters of the universe’ that brought the world economy to its knees in 2008. Towards the end of the story Veals is finally challenged as to the morality and enormity of his actions. In an attempt to demystify the manoeuvrings of the hedge fund operators Faulks places his main protagonist squarely in the spotlight. Veals is bluntly told;

‘It’s a fraud as old as markets themselves. The only difference is that it’s been on a titanic scale. At the invitation of the politicians. Behind the backs of the regulators and with the dumb connivance of the auditors. And with the fatal misunderstanding of the ratings agencies.’

And to underline the enormity of the fraud Faulks adds this powerful little extra;

‘Do you realise how high a million dollars in $100 bills would come up off the table, tightly packed? Four and a half inches. And do you know how far a trillion reaches?’

I’m fairly certain few if any of Faulks’ readers would have had the slightest idea. It turns out to be a staggering seventy one miles!!! That gives the reader a sense, in a way that no other words could possibly achieve, of the sheer magnitude of the deceptions that have been going on in the financial markets over the past few decades. This level of market manipulation complete with the associated tax avoidance strategies is a form of collective insanity every bit as destructive as religious extremism. Two distinct types of insanity dragging the world to the precipice. That Faulks is able to so convincingly counter-pose the two is his real triumph.  But the real insanity occurs when we all blindly sanction such gigantic bonuses for those that are so openly defrauding us. Modern day banking is possibly the greatest fraud in mankind’s history since the invention of religion itself. Insanity indeed.

I mentioned earlier that Faulks managed a sympathetic tone while offering a sound critique of Islam. And I think that is wholly justified. Confronted by the idiocy and moral bankruptcy of global capitalism complete with its obsession with material trinkets and social status, little wonder capitalism should spawn its opposite. That opposite used to be represented by the world wide movement for socialism but since its defeat in the face of the military-industrial complex of advanced capital, all that is left for the disposed and disillusioned is the fictional world of an Islamic paradise in the after-world. Socialism’s defeat opened up whole new possibilities for religious charlatans to regain lost ground. I sense that Faulks, through his portrayal of the character Hassan, appreciates this dialectic between capitalist immorality and religious fundamentalism.      

‘A Week In December’ is so pertinent to our contemporary reality that it ought to be compulsory reading on every school syllabus. But because successive Tory and Labour governments have been so totally complicit in this gigantic and quite insane financial fraud, don’t expect either political party to be endorsing this book any time soon. It therefore befalls the blogosphere to promote it wherever and whenever possible.  

End JPK Copyright 10/8/14

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Last Updated ( Friday, 15 August 2014 13:12 )