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Billed as a ‘State of the Nation’ novel this month’s thought-provoking book gave us an opportunity to comment on contemporary Britain. Faulks’ aim was to write a Dickensian novel of our time where characters from different walks of life are linked by unseen connections in which London itself plays an important part. What links the key players is that their lives have become disconnected, though in very different ways. Faulks started the work in the boom years of the last decade, but his writing was overtaken by the impending financial crisis, with the result that he shortened the book to make its publication more timely and decided to fit all the events into a week. Perhaps it was for this reason that we felt some of his huge cast of characters lacked depth – he himself said that it made writing about the development of relationships difficult – but it certainly prompted a lively discussion. There was a range of opinions from those who loved the book to those who were unable to finish the tale.
Through the course of a week in December 2007, the author explores the way various characters from very disparate backgrounds experience ‘disconnectedness’. Veals, the repellent hedge fund wheeler dealer, makes a fortune and destroys a bank, profoundly affecting the lives of many. But he himself lives in a little bubble, communicating through technology and unable to talk to his own family. Hassan, despite a relatively privileged upbringing as the son of a wealthy pickle manufacturer, has always felt on the margins of society, becoming more alienated over time until he discovers a radical Muslim group. Membership of this group gives him a sense of belonging and we see how politicisation takes place and a young man’s search for identity turns him into a potential bomber. Other characters find escapism through fantasy whether alternative computer worlds, fantasy football, TV ‘Reality’ shows or drug induced stupor. The factor which finally draws the threads of the varying social worlds together and brings our protagonists into some form of community is love, whether parental, romantic or platonic.
This well-researched satirical look at Britain captures many key issues of relevance to our daily lives. Does modern society divorce people from hands-on reality? As Hassan says at the end ‘It’s very difficult in life to know what’s valuable, what’s lasting. Even to know what’s real.’
On Thursday 10 March we meet to discuss Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth.
Withiel Book Circle – reading list
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