Monday, 1 December 2008
Sebastian Faulkes takes his reader through territory which will be familiar to men and women or a certain age. Some of the territory was only previously seen, or rather imagined, behind closed door: the excesses of bullying at a public school, recreational drug habits. Other territory is more directly familiar, working life in London in the eighties. The first person narration is so wonderfully direct. Often it is a conversation with the reader. Time ebbs and flows but the navigation is well signposted. There are cameos from elsewhere: bits from the worlds of Birdsong and Charlotte Grey.
Half way and two things occur to me. He's writing a blog. Actually he is writing a blog of our generation. When I posted my first note there was something hovering in the mind which I wasn't quite ready to write. It is about war and the generation to which the author and I belong. We are certainly tinged with guilt. As Engleby puts it, his grandfather fought in the Great War and his father in the second; all we have to combat is feminism (page 198 if you don't believe me). His blog is wide ranging as he takes us through the events and personalities of our shared lives.
The second point to occur is that the character seems to be running along OK on increasingly interesting work supported less and less by pills and booze. The flip side of this is that before with less interest and more booze there must have been an imbalance. So the hints start about Jen. I had wondered at the time and no doubt will be kept wondering. The trouble is that when a possibility such as this emerged in a novel, the instinct is the read as quickly as possible to find out. It will be interesting to see what he does to grab attention to other things.
This is clever writing. Jen was painted in such a good light that whoever killed her demands capital punishment at the very least. Yet, we have spent time with Engleby, we have suffered with him, found a little bit of happiness with him. I find myself reading more and more slowly. I don't want to see what now appears inevitable, that he killed her. One particular way Faulkes achieves this is through the two time frames. It is masterly.
It has taken a long time to get there, with the interruptions of daily life, but it has been so worthwhile. I seem to recall someone saying that they don't always finish a book. In this case (using the immortal words from Pretty Women) BIG MISTAKE.
I think I mentioned in an earlier blog the way that Faulks seems to be writing all our stories (that is those of us of a certain age). At the end of Engleby he dreams or fantasises perhaps that he is Jen and that the story could so easily have run differently. Not infrequently Engleby makes comments about genetics and the overwhelming similarity we have to other species; the point being that the differences are so marginal. So Engleby could so easily have been different, not bullied, not unhappy, not driven to killing the girl he loved and so longed to be loved by.
It is the experience of everyman, life is steered by marginal differences but to the most huge consequence. The chance of being born in England or Ethiopia.
Having now read quite a few of his work I think I can see that it is only by writing that a good writer becomes better.