An odd ensemble cast production and not my normal type of novel at all. Faulks has brought together a list of almost entirely unlikeable characters -- Veals the amoral banker, happily crashing a bank filled with old folk's pensions while ignoring his 'chilly' wife and their poorly parented son who's busy smoking his way into a psychiatric ward. Trantor (RT) the failed author, taking out his bitterness on those authors who are actually writing novels. He tears anything modern apart. The barely two-dimensional MP, Lance. The caricature immigrant lime-pickle magnate, so poorly educated that he struggles to read, which in turn causes him to obsess that everybody he views as his better sits around all the time discussing books he hasn't read. Only Jenny the train driver and Gabriel the failing barrister seem genuinely likeable, and even they somehow seem to lack any real depth of character.
That said, unlikeable though most of the characters are, none of them are truly dislikeable. Even Veals and RT, who are probably the least likeable, somehow seem to engender pity more than disgust or distaste. Neither of them really seem to engage in their vices with enough real vigour to cause any real dislike in the reader. And, I think that's the major problem with this book. The characters are too two-dimensional, too forgettable, too shallow. There is, of course, no real plot to speak of (this isn't genre fiction after all), instead the characters all move around each other, seemingly driven by coincidence only. They visit the same places as each other, interact with the same products and companies, yet rarely actually meet or have any meaningful interactions. Maybe that's the point of the novel though, the characters are drifting through their lives unaware of the coincidence, the brushes with excitement and change that they miss.
The novel itself is set over a seven day period, with each chapter dedicated to a single day. The week climaxes for each character differently -- a dinner party being the main shared experience that many of the characters move towards. For others it's a new relationship, a self-realisation, or a religious epiphany. You follow each of the main characters in their journey through this week. About half-way through the novel you start to get a suggestion that they may be some big climax at the end, some life changing experience. The repeated occurrence of the mystery cyclist provide a strong sense of a thriller. Yet pretty soon it dawns on you that isn't going to happen. The cyclist is another example of the mundane appearing connected to us, the reader, because we see the whole picture. To each character their lives are more solitary and unconnected.
In spite of the things that I didn't really get about the novel, and the things that annoyed me (the obviously made up company and product names for a start), Faulks seems to have pulled together a novel that I still thoroughly enjoyed reading. At no point was it a struggle or a chore, it just left me at the end wondering quite what it was all about, and suspecting that I'll forget it all pretty soon...