March 31, 2010 / 11:16 AM / 9 years ago

Book Talk: Faulks tackles extremism, financial crisis

LONDON (Reuters) - British author Sebastian Faulks does not shy away from big themes in his latest novel “A Week In December,” which had its U.S. release earlier this month on the Doubleday imprint.

The book, which won warm reviews in Britain for its scope and ambition, is a “state-of-Britain” story tackling religious extremism, the financial crisis and the internet generation who live their lives as much online as in the real world.

It also explores mental illness, drug abuse and broken families and, in some of its most engaging passages, satirizes the literary world that Faulks is most familiar with.

Faulks, author of “Birdsong” and James Bond novel “Devil May Care,” spoke to Reuters about A Week In December:

Q: Your novel is coming out in the United States, but is it too London-centric to work for American audiences?

A: “London is one of the main characters of the book and it was always planned that would the case (but) I don’t think American readers are so parochial that they would not be interested in one city, particularly because many of the themes are common to both Britain and America.”

Q: Most authors would have attempted to write about one of this book’s main themes rather than all of them in one story. Why did you decide to write so broadly?

A: “It is a very ambitious book and of course it was a big challenge to do but I enjoy big challenges. Although it’s true there are lots of different areas of interest in the book, they are all united by one theme and that theme is how far people have become detached from real life and how much people prefer to live in virtual reality. Unless I had found that one unifying thought I would not have undertaken so many different stories.”

Q: The portrait of Britain this book paints is a bleak one, would you say?

A: “I think it’s an angry and highly satirical book and there’s no doubt about that. Its colors are black and dark. But at the same time I would say it was funny. I would say A Week In December is a satire on contemporary life and looks unflinchingly at the realities of religious fundamentalism and financial greed and intemperance, and you cannot look at those things and come away smiling.”

Q: How did you research the book?

A: “Take Islam for a start. The level of debate about it is very low because it very rapidly becomes deliberately inflamed by demagogues of the left and right. I went to Denmark and stayed in Copenhagen with a suitcase full of books about Islam and kept reading until I’d put my finger on one key issue — while a believing Jew or Christian can live with a fairly light heart in pretty well any political system, a truly devout Muslim is not happy with any of the political systems in the world and most live with their unhappy compromise (and) so-called Muslim states are the ones the devout people detest the most.”

Q: The banking world, represented here by hedge fund manager John Veals, does not get a very sympathetic treatment.

A: “In a nutshell, their profits are theirs to keep and their losses are shared through the world. They have borne very little of the brunt (of the financial crisis). Most people (in the City) have survived fine and the brunt of the losses are borne by the rest of us and will be borne by the rest of us for 20 years probably. The degree of anger toward these people is inexplicably low.”

Q: Some journalists took your novel to be a “roman a clef,” where real people are represented by thinly disguised fictional characters, including the literary critic R. Tranter. Was it?

A: “There were journalists who were asking ‘who is this?’ It slightly distracted from the attention that should have been paid to the financial story. But it really, really is not (a roman a clef). I’ve never based a character in a book on a person in real life and I never will.”

Q: What are you working on now, and what comes next?

A: “I’m making a four-part TV series for BBC2 about characters in the English novel — Hero, Villain, Snob and Lover, and a book to go with it. Then I’ll start another novel in the autumn.”

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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