“What is an alcoholic? Someone who’ll steal money from his only friend to buy a drink because the drink is more important and he’d rather lose the friend.”

Sebastian Faulks


I hate to put a spoiler alert on a book review, because, well, the whole point of a book review is to recommend it to people…isn’t it?

But there’s really no other way to say everything I want to say about Engleby, because of the whole nature of the story it tells.

The novel presents itself as the diary of one Mike Engleby, a social misfit at Cambridge. In some ways you might call it a murder mystery, although it doesn’t read like one: one of Engleby’s friends (for want of a better word) goes missing, and as Engleby goes through life we slowly uncover the truth – again, for want of a better word – of what “really” happened to her.

Engleby is a vividly real character, full of contradictions – he wants everyone to be “happy”, apparently, but is perfectly unrepentant about stealing small change and other things – with a darkly sarcastic voice:

The linguistics side of it hasn’t been fruitful yet because the people writing about the basics of language don’t seem to be able to write.

As an English student, I can relate.

The novel itself is equally complex and contradictory. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on what “really” happened – incidentally, is anyone really surprised when we discover that Engleby is a murderer? I certainly wasn’t – Faulks does something else to shift the boundaries of truth. The entire novel asks questions about consciousness and reality and time. It’s deeply unsettling.

Engleby is a wonderfully clever book, with the most unreliable of narrators and the murkiest of mysteries. Definitely a favourite.


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