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A Week in December, By Sebastian Faulks

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Sebastian Faulks' "state of the nation" novel has a large cast of characters that has drawn comparisons with Dickens' work, but while Faulks never writes a hackneyed or lazy sentence, polishing each with care, the finished product still resembles a superior kind of soap opera.

John Veals is a hedge-fund manager obsessed with deals; R Tranter is a hack book reviewer who lives to spike real writers' careers; Jenni Fortune is a Tube driver and Sophie Topping is planning a dinner party a few nights' hence, at which some of them will meet, along with about 20 other individuals, some of whom Faulks portrays in more depth than others.

Like Jenni, the other character not invited to dinner is Glasgow jihadist Hassan al-Rashid, who belongs to a cell planning a bombing campaign. For some reason, I always expect Faulks to be a more interior kind of writer than he is: he doesn't so much explore characters' motivations as present them fully formed and thoroughly accounted for, which, disappointingly, leaves little room for further investigation into their inner lives.

Faulks likes his research and is always specific, but here the details simply reinforce the impression of types, rather than flesh-and-blood beings. As readers, we stand forever outside, looking in.

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