I don’t get satire, apparently

The back cover of A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks has a couple of comments that call it hilarious and satirical. I don’t think I smiled once while reading it, so I guess I didn’t get it.

What I did get (at least I think I did) was the commentary on the state of society today. It made me feel sad, because I don’t think the stories of the people in the book are entirely fictitious. Their loneliness, their pain, their sadness all exist in the world we share.

I was especially affected by the selfishness and greed of John, who works in finance, managing a hedge fund. John did not care about anything but money. He chose his wife because he didn’t think she would require much attention, he didn’t have time to listen to a phone call about his son being in hospital, he happily, almost proudly, made decisions that would make thousands of people unemployed or hungry. I know that such people must exist, many run business and corporations, but I often wonder how they can look at themselves in the mirror. To me, doing something that hurts my child or husband is enough to cause insomnia, I can’t even fathom what being responsible for the misery or misfortune of thousands would feel like. But I guess those people don’t think in the same way as me and don’t hold the same values. I am grateful that I am incapable of understanding them.

Just like John lives in his money-making world, the other characters too live in their little bubbles, often struggling to make meaningful contact. In one passage, a single house contains a teenager smoking joint after joint in his room and his mother drinking glass after glass of wine in hers. Both are lonely beyond words and both try to lose themselves in drugs, alcohol and mindless television. Why can’t they connect?

Why can’t another character, Jenni, connect to anyone outside her virtual reality game? Although in her case salvation arrives unexpectedly and she is able to beat her isolation.

Even Hassan, who we see slowly sink deeper and deeper into his religion, until he doesn’t see sense in anything else anymore, complains about how compartmentalized we’ve become, each listening to our own personal devices instead of each other.

The world painted in this book is bleak indeed. I wonder if that’s why Sebastian Faulks set it in December, to add to the grey coloring and to underline how cold his characters are. Although, as I write about it now, setting it just before Christmas makes another strong statement, since the spirit of the holidays is nowhere to be seen.

This was my first book by Sebastian Faulks and I loved the way he used words to build his world. The writing was punchy and engaging. The interesting structure of interweaving the stories of seven characters’ lives over seven days also deserves a mention.

But what I appreciated most is the idea behind the writing, the thought to show us a mirror of the world we live in. Because only when we see it up close and seemingly from the outside can we begin to see it clearly. And hopefully decide to change it.

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