Mrs Wiki has been on at me for ages to read some Sebastian Faulks. Somehow, I never got round to it. I’m not as fascinated by the First World War as she is, and frankly, that Sebastian Faulks (Seb!) was just too successful and, frankly, too damn popular with the ladies for my liking. I was jealous. And envious. I envied his fame, fortune and fans, and I maybe I was jealous that my wife was reading his words not mine.
I was ‘between books’ recently and she said Engleby might be more up my street than a war book. And I was a bit surprised by what I found between the covers.
First of all: the slowness. I was on the verge of giving up on page 85, but I stuck with it – which was lucky as something did actually happen on page 86. Enough to keep me going, but it’s not exactly a suspense thriller. I think I tweeted early on ‘this bloke’s a psycho, isn’t he?’ and events as they unfold, come as no surprise.
But here’s the real problem: I could not believe how similar the early part of the book is to the first volume of Stephen Fry’s autobigraphy Moab Is My Washpot, published ten years before Engleby. I didn’t much care for that book either – it confirmed my suspicions that Stephen Fry is neither quite as clever nor as likable as one might think. But I digress.
Faulks’ descriptions of a minor public school are so similar to Stephen Fry’s autobiography it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t influenced. There are even descriptions of petty theft which match Fry’s confessions, right down to pilfering coins rather than notes from other boys’ jackets, coins being less likely to be missed.
When Fry leaves school he winds up at the London educational employment agency with the delightful name Gabbitas Thring. Imagine my surprise when Engleby attends… exactly the same agency.
The blank periods in Engleby’s memory are also very reminiscent of another book, one I love: Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, which describes a man who experiences blackouts and who is propelled by a suppressed side of his personality to kill a woman who spurns his advances. Like Engleby, he has no memory of what the he has been doing when his mind flips into its altered state. Sound familiar?
Ok, that’s not much of a review. In a nutshell: unlikeable, unreliable narrator whose behaviour seems to veer between Asperger’s Syndrome and schizophrenia. Occasionally amusing. Odd cameos of real celebrities. Not much happens. Ending is not a surprise.
I don’t think I’ll be reading any more Sebastian Faulks. Soz.