Sebastian Faulks says the super-rich think ‘rules don’t apply’ on mortality and ethics

Author was interviewed by The Independent’s literary critic Martin Chilton during a talk at Henley Literary Festival

Roisin O'Connor
Saturday 30 September 2023 14:18 BST
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Sebastian Faulks condemned the “rules don’t apply” attitude of the super-rich, which he suggested extends to issues of ethics and mortality, during a talk at Henley Literary Festival.

The award-winning author, 70, was interviewed by literary critic Martin Chilton at the annual event, for which The Independent is an exclusive news partner. Faulks discussed – among other topics – his latest novel, The Seventh Son.

His 16th book begins in 2030 and follows a couple undergoing fertility treatment – unaware that the billionaire owner of the clinic has meddled with their sample.

Faulks spoke with several embryologists as part of his research for the book, which poses questions of genetic difference, ethics in medicine, and human identity.

Appearing to acknowledge the inevitable comparisons that could be drawn between one of his characters and billionaire tech CEO Elon Musk, the Birdsong author said he’d wanted to steer clear of clichés. He said, however, that he found inspiration in observing the mega-wealthy over the years.

“Something we all encountered about 15 years ago [was] where super rich people – bankers and hedge funders – believed that the normal rules didn’t apply for them,” he said. “Taxes are for the little people… things like that.”

He continued: “They’d go to a restaurant and wouldn’t look at the menu. They just tell the waiter what they want and if he doesn’t have it, they’d give him £500 and say go and get it. They’re not bound by air traffic control, they just have a plane.”

Faulks suggested the real problem emerges when their “we’re above all this” attitude is applied to the world of morality and ethics.

“You can’t be above morality,” he said. “And the whole idea of people wanting to live forever – ‘death is for the little people’ – is part of their view.

“But if somebody’s going to live forever, I don’t want it to be some jerk from Silicon Valley. I want it to be Jane Austen, or Victoria Wood, or Eric Morcambe. Someone who actually contributes to human enjoyment and the richness of life.”

(Sebastian Faulks)

Faulks’s latest book, an instant Sunday Times bestseller, follows critically lauded works, including his First World War epic Birdsong (1993), which was adapted into a 2012 BBC drama starring Eddie Redmayne, and his 1999 novel Charlotte Gray, which was turned into a 2001 film starring Cate Blanchett.

In an interview with The Independent, published on Saturday (30 September) , Faulks observed that his first “set” of books posed the question: “Who are we?”

His more recent works, meanwhile, have asked: “What are we? And how might we have been different?”

“[The Seventh Son is] very specifically focused on this character and what his genetic makeup might teach us about the weirdness of homosapiens,” he said during his talk at Henley Literary Festival. “Because I consider us to be a very weird species.”

Henley Literary Festival continues until 8 October.

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