Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sebastian Faulks


It is a small part of life we really live. Indeed, all the rest is not life but merely time.
- From On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

I read Sebastian Faulk's novel Charlotte Gray almost a decade ago. It is an historical novel of the best kind both for its historical accuracy and its dramatic characterization.
In reading Engleby I found a psychological novel where characterization is brought to the fore with the presentation in the first person. That person, Mike Engleby, gradually becomes several characters as the novel progresses. Much like Dickens, notably in David Copperfield and Great Expectations, Sebastian Faulks's protagonist adopts different names for his persona over the course of the novel. The reader gradually begins to doubt the reliability of Engleby as narrator of his life story and with good cause, as he develops psychological characteristics that one may only categorize as pathological. Where these lead him I will leave to those readers interested in finding our for themselves. I found his story suspenseful, even as it began to repulse me. My interest was also piqued by his recurrent meditations like this one on time:

"What is this present then? It's an illusion; it's not reality if it can't be held. What therefore is there to fear in it?"(p. 65)

This is early in the novel, he has later meditations on the nature of thinking itself, and you gradually wonder if these are not symptoms of his gradual loss of the ability to distinguish reality from imagination. His pathology includes a variant of voyeurism that allow the author to incorporate diaries and other documents into the narrative - perhaps to confirm Engleby's own views. The combinatorial effect of the narrative techniques made this an intriguing psychological novel and raised the author in my estimation. I look forward to reading more of his novels.

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks. Vintage Books, London. 2008 (2007)

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