Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

I bought this as one of the cheap paperbacks that you can get with the Times. The past few have all been more aimed at women, which probably reflects that fact that women buy and read books, whereas men presumably get magazines where you can look at the pictures.

Anyway, it was certainly a page turner. It kept you reading, it was never dull, and moved along in an engaging way. However, despite clearly being very clever, I really doubt whether the author was even alive at the time he was writing about, or whether he has ever met anyone from the working class. Not normally huge disadvantages, but when you are writing from the perspective of a working class person who gets a scholarship to a minor public school, it would help if you had some degree of understanding of the person and their background.

You do therefore have to choke back your critical facilties and suspend your disbelief to a huge extent. If you can manage that, you would probably enjoy the book.

One example can suffice, the protaginist comes from a very poor background, yet during the late seventies at university he has a car. During the early eighties, I only knew one university student who had a car. Without hefty parental support getting a driving license, or buying a car, were beyond the reach of pretty much everyone, without huge expenditure of time and effort.

It also fell into the pattern nowadays where in novels everything and everyone is notable. In real life everything and everyone is pretty mundane with exceptions so rare that they could be disregarded for all practical purposes. The protaginist is quite an engaging character, and it would have been more pleasurable if it had all ended happily. It reminds me of why I enjoy the Douglas Coupland books where nothing much happens, and folk are a little eccentric but nothing that outrageous.

I rather prefer books about people who are mad to be borderline insane themselves, like Patrick Hamilton or Malcolm Lowry, straining at the limits of reality. Rather than something that could easily enough be serialised without frightening anyone.

Random Quote - opening lines
"My name is Mike Engleby, and I'm in my second year at an ancient university. My college was founded in 1662, which means it's viewed here as modern. Its chapel was designed by Hawksmoor, or possibly Wren; its gardens were laid out by someone else whose name is familiar. The choir stalls were carved by the only woodcarver you've ever heard of."

I am guessing that the carver is Grinling Gibbons, but the point is that the writing does rather flatter you along the way, in a way that real life does not.