Sunday, 17 November 2013

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks - Book Review

engleby, sebastian faulks, engleby book review
Mike Engleby, a working class undergraduate attending one of the country's prestigious universities, is our observer to the aftermath of the disappearance of popular student Jennifer Arkland.

Fueled with expectations of a taut thriller and dubious narrator and only 'Birdsong' as my previous foray into Faulks-ian fiction, I was taken aback by the stark difference in rhetoric style employed in Engleby. Whereas Birdsong is melodiously written, entrenched in beautiful (and equally devastating) descriptions of the most minute character expressions and surroundings, Engleby is almost devoid of such narration.

The book almost reads like a diary - one long narration from Mike, who initially we have no reason to distrust as our eyes and ears to the world he inhabits. Talking us through his undergraduate days, Mike often pulls us back to his troubled school past, coupled with obscured peeks into his ambiguous home life.

Soon, Mike's actions become increasingly more confusing and uncomfortable to the reader - even more so for the indications towards a deeper investment in Jennifer's personal life. It becomes clear that Mike is not the most stable of individuals, continuously engaging in some morally ambiguous endeavour. In particular, his voyeuristic objectification of women is a disconcerting facet to his character.

Always providing some abstract justification, it's clear Mike is (or at least considers himself to be) a very smart individual, although a manipulative one, and well practiced in throwing us off his moral misdemeanors with his abstracted manner towards storytelling.

 I was disappointed with Engleby and this is probably more a reflection on my own understanding of the novel than the actual story itself. I found it hard to keep up with the narration, as it often felt as if I were overwhelmed with a more intellectual voice. Now this only added to the unease of trying to understand Mike and his thoughts, which is great for the novel as a thriller, but in terms of reader satisfaction, I felt quite lost.

I wouldn't necessarily discourage potential readers from picking this up as their next read. In fact I've made a promise to myself to come back to Engleby with a fresh mind one day and see if I can't appreciate it more on a second attempt.

... I'd quite like to see Engleby adapted for the screen, as I got a Inspector Morse/Lewis-esque mood from the book!