Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks

Engleby tells his life story: how he won a place at a public school, then went on to university, and afterwards became a journalist, but overshadowing it is the story of Jennifer, a fellow university student who goes missing after a party.

For a lot of this, I was reminded of The Rotters' Club: not just because of the missing girl (who, like Miriam, kept a diary that we see extracts of) but also because a large part of the book is set in the seventies, and there are plentiful allusions to music of the time (ELP, King Crimson, even "Time and a Word"). But it's a bit of a darker book than that, and Engleby doesn't have the same sense of sentiment and gentle nostalgia as Ben Trotter.

The writing is pretty good, and laugh-out-loud funny in parts. I think I've previously only read one book by Faulks, which I believe was a wartime one, and so I'd expected this to be a bit more, mmm, conventional(?) than it was. But it was very readable and the structure of the novel was interesting too: for a lot of it you're wondering, is this an unreliable narrator or not?

Something that was markedly different from the Coe books is that as a journalist, Engleby interviews Ken Livingston, Jeffrey Archer and Margaret Thatcher. I remember in The Closed Circle that I found it irritating that he had characters appear on a TV show which was obviously based on "Have I Got News for You", but was called something different. I assumed then that maybe there was some legal reason for this, but it doesn't seem to have stopped Faulks, who puts words into the mouths of real people that (while they may well be accurate reflections of what those people have said) made me feel slightly uneasy on his behalf. But then, as I say, this feeds into the idea that perhaps you can't trust what's being said in this first-person-account that might actually be a made-up first-person-account.

So a pretty good read. I've got some more Faulks on the "pending" shelf.

Completed : 10-Jan-2010

[nickoh] [2010 books] [books homepage]