The antihero of Sebastian Faulks’s new novel is a pub-crawling, aesthetically The narrator, Mike Engleby, begins his long apologia with an. Narrated in the first person by the main character, Mike Engleby, Faulks’s seventh novel is modern, demotic and funny – albeit in a deep shade of black. It’s hard. Engleby has ratings and reviews. Jeff said: Bestselling British author Sebastian Faulks reinvents the unreliable narrator with his singular, haunting.

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Sebastian Faulks’s publisher advertises his latest novel as “unlike anything he has written before”, which will put off readers who want more of the same, and is also inaccurate, even for a blurb.

The inside of an outsider’s mind

Like Faulks’s previous five novels, Engleby is determinedly historical and, like his last Human Tracesit deals with psychiatry. It tells, in his own words, the story of Mike Engleby, a working-class boy from Reading who wins a place at grammar school, and then scholarships to public school faulms Cambridge, before becoming a Fleet Street journalist.

The bulk of the story, the crucial bit, concerns his time at Cambridge in the early s, where he starts out reading English before switching, rather improbably, to Natural Sciences. Engleby’s words are gauche, to begin with. He is adrift and freezing in a place where weather and politics both seem to come from Russia the dons are all Stalinists, Englleby or Mensheviks.

A gawky figure on the margins of student life, given to Hornbyish musings about King Crimson and Soft Machine, he is practically friendless, apart from a tenuous social life achieved by dealing hash, and an obsession with an unobtainable girl. Jane Shilling reviews Engleby. As his narrative progresses, though, and his memories gain weight, his words grow steadily more eloquent and his character more confident.

There is an excruciating account of his public school, where he is nicknamed “Toilet”, remorselessly bullied, and eventually becomes a bully in turn – a process compared as one might expect from the author of Charlotte Gray, if not from Engleby himself with that by which the Vichy French became enthusiastic collaborators with the Nazis. Engleby’s memories prompt him not only to historical comparison but also to consider the nature of history, which he sees as somehow compromised by modernity “While the past is real enough – the only true reality – the present has insufficient depth to register it”and of time: But since we are incapable of viewing it in any other way, it might as well be.


That last perception leads him to the idea at the heart of this novel, that “the defining human faculty – that of self-awareness – is a faulty one, at best partial and frustrating, at worst utterly misleading”.


Engleby, in other words, is that fictive exemplar, an unreliable narrator. Quite early on in his story, the odd detail begins not to add up, and about a quarter of the way through, when “something truly terrible” happens, we start to harbour serious suspicions.

A past and present that don’t add up – Telegraph

But these are more or less allayed as the narrative regains its balance, and after an obscure hiatus Engleby emerges – plausibly enough, given his trade as a journalist – as a Zelig-like figure in the public life of Britain in the s. After his career is launched by the Brixton riots, he becomes a feature writer and interviewer, which inaugurates the most entertaining stretch of the novel. faaulks

He meets Jeffrey Archer he “told me things he must have known weren’t true and other things he must have known that I would know weren’t true”and Ken Livingstone sebasian his “round Chinese laundryman’s face”. He has lunch with Alan Clark, who oozes lechery and snobbery, and goes motorbike shopping with Sir Ralph Richardson “‘Brmm, brmm, that’s the stuff ‘”.

During this part of the story – and for much of the rest – Engleby is an eminently reliable narrator. He is admirably accurate, for example, about the Fleet Street bars of the period, such as “a fiendish little slit of a pub called the King and Keys, which was full of red-faced men from the Telegraph with grey hair and ash on their suits, haranguing one another, already drunk by five past 12”.


And he constantly displays the sort of judicious wit one has come englehy expect from newspaper columns by, for example, Sebastian Faulks.

Disconcertingly, however, even after the denouement – when the “truly terrible” thing catches up with him, his life unravels like an old sock and his self-awareness is revealed to be misleading – Engleby remains a sound historian or journalist. Faulks may be making a deliberate point here, and it may be psychologically failks, but it does not work aesthetically. For all its virtues – and there are many – Engleby feels like two quite different novels, inadequately yoked together by a narrator who proves not nearly unreliable enough.

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A complete edition of John James Audubon’s world famous The Birds of America, bound in linen and beautifully presented in a special slipcase. Accessibility links Skip to article Skip to navigation. Monday 31 December A past and present that don’t add up. Lewis Jones reviews Engleby by Sebastian Faulks.

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