My lovely mum buys me lots of books and most recently she came up with Engleby by Sebastian Faulks. It took me a while to get down to reading it because I hated the front cover- a rather pale and gloomy affair, but when I eventually got going I couldn’t put it down.
When we first meet Mike Engleby, he is a second year student at Cambridge University. Fond of real ale and unidentified blue pills, he sets himself apart from the other students, preferring his own company – although he does rather admire a pretty history student called Jennifer Arkland. On the whole, Engleby spends his time drinking alone in various local bars and his only social interaction seems to be with the members of Jen Soc, a student society set up by Engleby’s favourite lady, Jennifer Arkland, with the vague aim of drinking cheap wine and putting the world to rights.
As the book goes on, Engleby takes us back to his miserable childhood when, as a working class boy at a brutal public school, he suffers considerably at the hands of a spotty chap called Baynes. You really feel like you suffer with him at this point- Faulks succinctly captures the misery of a lonely childhood, and yet there is something odd about Mike Engleby- something that you just can’t put your finger on. You start to get the feeling that he’s not being entirely honest in his narrative- but to what end?
Back in the present, a shocking event rocks Cambridge as popular Jennifer Arkland disappears without a trace. A nationwide manhunt ensues and Engleby’s world is turned upside down. Far be it from me to spoil such a gripping book by sharing with you the fate of Jennifer Arkland but I will say that Sebastian Faulks knows how to keep his readers guessing until the end.
Engleby is an uncomfortable book at times and there’s not an awful lot of happiness in it. It’s not a beach read, that’s for sure, but it might just be the perfect thing for a rainy Sunday afternoon. One thing I do know is that every time I put the book down, when I got off the train or got into bed, I found myself wondering about Engleby and about how the story was going to end. From the gentle pace of the early part of the book to its hard-hitting conclusion, Faulks spans Engleby’s entire life, and you really get the feeling you’re living it with him. There is nothing two-dimensional about Engleby, and I’m sure that he will linger on in my mind for a long time, even now that the book is finished.