Engleby – S. Faulks – Reflections

My tutor suggested I read Engleby because “it is a good example of a novel where the prose is rich and descriptive and yet the plot moves along swiftly enough to keep the reader engaged”. He suggested in my Assignment 2 feedback that it also “combines a haunting quality, which you show a talent for, with an emerging plot.”

Engleby is a story of a working class man who receives a scholarship to go to Cambridge College. While there a woman student goes missing. It is a character sketch of a damaged man. With many detours we get to know Engleby: he describes who he likes (in settings); what he likes to do (by showing him doing them); and how smart he is (in school).

It is written in first person which allows us to get intimate with Engleby. However, because the only input we have is from him, it is difficult to know what is true and what he fabricates.

The first dialogue he has is with tutors in the college at his interview shows us his character. He is comfortable with questions regarding academia, but when it comes to regular discussions, he seems uncomfortable. When asked if he had any questions, he become so anxious he sweats and asks them about laundry facilities. Page 4.

Most of the story is internal monologue. This can become a little boring at times. Dialogue helps to break up a story as well as move the story along.

From the first page we are introduced to the main part of the story: Jennifer Auckland the girl who goes missing. Page 1. About a fifth of the way through the story she disappears. Page 86.

When describing settings he was at times very simple building layer upon layer. For example he describes a Turkish bus station thus: “There were sodium lights over the grimy tarmac and the glass-sided shelter. There was that wailing Muslim music turned up louder than the cheap speakers wanted, so their tinny shuddering was added to the vibrato of the singer.” Page 38.

But then he describes something quite poetically; so much so that it is unclear exactly what he means, but you get the feeling from his words. For example, “Whoosh goes the chestnut-amber tide up the side of the straight glass as I tear the cellophane from a silver packet of Sobranie Virginia.” Page 92.

It surprised me how often Faulkes started paragraphs with “I.” I did not think this was acceptable but obviously it is. I also noticed that Faulkes wrote many paragraphs with sentences that start with the same word. This has helped me to realize that story telling does not have to be so laborious.

Faulks brings in a creepy element by having Engleby doing unsociable things. For example, he steals a letter of Jennifer’s ( page 39) and turns up in Ireland at a film society event that Jennifer attends without being a member of the society or invited (page 26).

Some lists do not have “and” before the first item, for example “cheap post-war pebbledash, Mock Tudor with leaded lights, white washed villa.” Page 123. Stephen King mentioned this in his book “On Writing.” He says “It’s not really a good sentence technically speaking… there should be a conjunction (and)… but it’s a good one in terms of the entire passage. Its brevity and telegraphic style vary the pace and keep the writing fresh… A series of grammatically proper sentences can stiffen that line, make it less pliable.” King page 150-151.

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