on 6 May 2013
I bought his in paperback while on holiday and my partner and I both got into it, so I bought a kindle copy as well.
I hadn't been so engrossed in a book since Easter 2006, when I was reading Birdsong by the pool. What writing!
Adult, dark themes, but It's a real page-turner, unlike all those books where you don't turn the pages. Recommended wholeheartedly - a novel that will take you out of your comfort zone. Is he an reliable narrator? How much flashback are we getting here? Wow.
on 30 November 2010
This is specifically a review of the audio-book, which is read by Michael Moloney. I'm not normally a fan of MM's portrayals, but here, his performance and his character are brilliant. He completely captures the tone and timing of Mike Engleby, and the orbiting cast - in fact I found his Engleby haunting to the point of him popping up in my dreams. The sense of creeping tension that builds from page one is tangible, compelling and disturbing. Slowly, the jigsaw pieces of Engleby's life are pushed into place - from being bullied at school for saying "Toilet" to ending up in the natural resting place for those of diminished responsibilty (Fleet Street). When Mike's mental state is analysed towards the end, I felt so shaken by the strength of the characterisation that I started to identify some of Engleby's 'symptoms' in myself! When Engleby's physical appearance is revealed (deliberately as late as possible), that is also a shock that shakes your pre-conceptions. The one-star reviewers who all say "I worked out what happens straightaway" have missed the point - Engleby is not a whodunnit, or a thriller; it's a searing sketch of someone who might be sitting next to us in the pub . . . . . or looking at us in the mirror.
on 20 May 2007
This book is phenomenal; it has shot into my top ten books of all time. It takes a lot to make it into this esteemed list and Faulks has certainly delivered a lot here. He is truly a master and this change from his usual style is brilliant. He has moved away from the historical novel to a relatively contemporary setting. The story touches on the themes of education, class, politics, and psychosis. The narrator is Engleby, an undergraduate at Cambridge in the 70's. He is a strange character, a loner and outsider, very much on the fringes of life. He is not particularly pleasant but he is engaging, intelligent and funny. However, there is always something missing from his accounts of his life and the reader can never be sure if they are missing some details. Most of the book takes place inside his mind and since he has `selective memory' he is always one step ahead of the reader. This isn't a book in which a great deal happens but the beauty is in the subtlety.
Faulks' writing style is very lucid and he uses language sparingly; with his books you get none of the 'misty' effect I've noticed in many new books lately where the actual story seems to be lost underneath a mass of unnecessary verbosity. He is perceptive and insightful with a dry sense of humour. His ruminations on the pointlessness of studying English are very, very funny. Faulks is not afraid to offend and that is a refreshing quality in this day and age.
I read this book very quickly as I found myself literally unable to put it down. If you are a Faulks fan this is a must read for you. If you are new to him, Engleby is a great introduction (although don't expect his other works to be similar - they're not.) Every time I open a book I hope that this will be the one that gets me really inspired and keeps me up all night reading; this was the one.
on 13 February 2009
By the end of this book, I found myself questioning whether any of Engleby's life story was true, or whether his memoirs were made up entirely of a combination of warped recollections, bendings of the truth and outright lies.
A great story; you'll find yourself playing out alternative explanations for hours!
on 6 February 2013
I have enjoyed this book so much. It's a slow start. I read it on the Kindle (it was a Book Club choice) and as such I had know idea what it was about as I hadn't even seen the cover. I can actually recommend this - it makes it even more fascinating. I knew that the slow start would be worth it, because it's Sebastian Faulks. And it really, really was. A unique and intriguing protagonist, and deft twists and turns in the plot. Once you're 'in' - you won't want to put it down. Brilliant.
on 3 April 2013
I am afraid I find little merit in this novel. It is almost entirely a train-of-thought sequence of uninteresting self-observations about the first-person narrator, Mike Engleby, following him from early childhood to a his mid-fifties. Engleby is an intelligent individual, so some of his thoughts are thought-provoking: to give you a flavour of these thoughts, one such is that he is probably not an individual at all! An awful lot of his reflections are far from being engaging. The confusing mix of present and simple-past tense narration is both gratuitous and peeving; I can detect no logic to it. The reviews on the cover imply that this is a thriller; it isn't. It is simply the relaying to the reader of Mike's multifarious prejudices and hang-ups. By the time anything interesting comes along (first 20 or so pages excepted - these are promising), we have all guessed what has happened to Engleby's fellow student, Jennifer. Even when we find out for sure, it is a boring discovery; what follows, namely further accounts of Engleby's own assessment of his new situation (I am trying not to give away the plot here, so bear with me) is no more interesting than the accounts we find earlier in the novel. Oh dear.... The very ending is a veritable damp squib. I am sorry to be so negative, but I really became tired of this story quarter-way-through, continuing with it only because I thought something exciting or genuinely interesting might develop: it did not.
on 23 May 2011
In my humble opinion, this is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read, and certainly I would name it among my 5 favourite novels, ever. Although Sebastian Faulks is most famous for his anti-war book, Birdsong (which is excellent, too), I genuinely feel that Engleby is head and shoulders above that. Told in autobiographical form, it traces the life of young student Mike Engleby - a troubled genius who treats `inferior` people with contempt, and who considers only his own left field opinions and tastes worth considering, becomes embroiled in a "murder mystery" following the disappearance of a female student he knows and fancies. I shan`t spoil the story for you by revealing what happens, but believe me, the denouement is excellent.
What raises this book to a standard so much better than hundreds of others I`ve read is that one can actually feel sympathy for the main character, who despite his many flaws and unswerving but often dangerous views on things, has really been through the mill and had a lot of terrible things happen to him. He remains an enigmatic, flawed yet compelling anti-hero from start to finish. The other very clever technique Faulks weaves into the plot is that his strange personality means that a lot of what he tells may not actually be true, thus making the reader have to unravel the facts from the fiction in a bizarre sort of `psychotic red herring`(!) way.
If you like tales of introspective loners or of murder "mysteries" written in a masterly fashion, you MUST read this one!
on 13 January 2008
It's a real relief when a novelist is brave enough to present readers with a character who isn't begging to be liked and Faulks has done that with Engleby; in fact he's done much more.
As you make your way through this novel Mike Engleby changes not only the name by which he is known but seemingly also his character. As he reveals parts of his life you can't help feeling more and more sympathy for him as he appears to gain more depth. However, all this leaves you stranded at the novel's denouement which, as other reviewers point out, you can see coming from quite a long way off. Finally you get to see him as others in the novel do and you feel foolish for having fallen for his slight charm and resourcefulness.
Although spanning several decades, Engleby's reach is actaully quite short with all personnel and events seemingly drawn irresistably into Mike's troubled mind.
This is a clever, quite disturbing, tidy novel that is devastatingly unsentimental.
on 6 July 2008
Setting aside the fact that `Engleby` is a gripping psychological thriller of sorts, Sebastian Faulks' new novel is also a brilliant meditation on the unreliability of memory, on the things lost by the fallability of the human mind. It also examines the unattainability or brevity of the present in an ever-evolving world and the protagonist's philosophical, and indeed psychological, inability to cope with that. Coupled with the faultlines in his memory, the fact that the eponymous Mike Engleby cannot account for events in his past has disastrous consequences for his future: "There are some things in the past that may have happened and some that may not have happened. But the reality of their happening or not happening then has no weight now".
Faulks' atmospheric - at times deceptively nostalgic - rendering of the 1970s means that while `Engleby` deals with the past, it does not conform to the author's favoured genre of the historical novel. Rather, in telling a whole life as a memoire - albeit one truncated by a selective or unreliable memory - Faulks is aiming to show life as transitive: always lived and felt, but fleeting and ungraspable. It's an astonishing work that cleverly uses the first person to play with notions of narrational reliability: of the lucidity and accountability of adulthood over youth, and of course the fragility of the human mind. Indeed the subject of psychosis is explored in far more interesting ways here than in the research-heavy but poorly characterised `Human Traces`. However, the groundwork done on Faulks' earlier work has really paid off in `Engleby`, a novel whose simplicity of form belies the depth of his knowledge of psychiatry.
As a loner and misanthrop, Mike Engleby is a rather marginal - if not invisible - character in the world that he inhabits, enabling a honest while cynical detailing of the life and times that surround him. He drifts through 1970s and 80s Britain, pulled along by the social transformations that shaped the period yet mysteriously detached from them, wavering between brutal lucidity and inertia. We notice very early, however, that something is missing from Mike "Toilet" Engleby's perception of himself, his memory, and the clarity of his perception of other people. It is difficult to judge at first whether we are just constricted by his subjective world view or if the narrator is being deliberately selective with the truth. At first his memory of events seems to have the supernatural accuracy of a savant, then seems obsessive, later completely unreliable.
Throughout the book we - and the narrative - are impelled by a desire to understand Engleby, or his place in the world, as much as to discover the truth of his actions. It's a wonderfully compulsive read, eventually driven by the protagonist's need to comprehend himself. Therefore, what we have is a portrait of someone which starts sketchily and gradually gains colour and clarity, much in the way that our minds tell - or trick - us into perceiving the present (a "trick" given that the richness of the present disolves with time). Debateably his finest novel, certainly his best since `Birdsong`, `Engleby` is one of the best new novels I have read in years.
on 24 June 2008
Having enjoyed but not been overly struck by Faulks' novels so far, I was thoroughly spellbound by this one. As Faulks' dark, lone anti-hero, Engleby, reveals himself and his background, the reader is invited into his sardonic, autobiographical reflections, his musings on the period in which he is living and the characters (many of them real) that inhabit it. Readers over 50 who can look back on the same time frame will relish Engleby's cynical recollections. I was continually impressed by Faulks' ability to evoke the atmosphere and thinking of the 70s and 80s and his occasional neat trick of applying the irony of hindsight.
However, the principal force of the book is the gradual exposure of Engleby as a brilliant scholar from a poor, violent background who initially seems to have survived early abuse and the atrocities of public school bullying (Faulks' exposé of this is painful and shocking but the reader's sympathies with Engleby take an abrupt turn away when he metes out the same offence on a younger boy) to evolve into a quasi-savant intellectual and then a successful and respected national journalist.
As the mystery of the girl's disappearance unfolds, it is inevitable that the reader will predict the outcome and inexorable fate of Engleby's solitary and impaired personality. Any other possibility would reduce the novel's power and purpose. It is a chilling account of deep psychological damage hidden for many years beneath an `acceptable' individual. Finally, Faulks' fascinating portrayal of our current fixation with finding `psychobabbly' causes for Engleby's mindset and behaviour emphasises our limited understanding of the human mind and simply serves to nourish this cold and superior individual's narcissism and self-obsession. Nothing fits, and right to the end he keeps us guessing.
Normally, I am able put a book down (well, one has to work, eat and sleep eventually) but this one was hard: the story gripped me slowly but persistently. I found Faulks' style to be concise, witty and moving - I have tagged several pages to revisit. Definitely, worth a second read.