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The Life of Mike Engleby

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 633
  • Category: Books Life

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“Engleby” is a prose piece of text and follows the life of Mike Engleby, a intellectually precocious but socially ill-adapted student at Cambridge in the 1970s as he frets about the creeping homogeneity of contemporary life. “God I hate the present,” he declares. “It has no depth of field; no context.” The book was written in the early part of the 21st century with the benefit of thirty years of hindsight and has some similarities to the life of its bestselling author, Sebastian Faulks. Faulks speaks directly to the reader in diary entries in an attempt to help the reader understand the eccentric traits of Engleby. He does this by purposely missing out key points such as the university he attends and recalling only seemingly negative memories that would affect the student. Faulks, purposely doesn’t try to charm the reader which perhaps backfires on him somewhat.

As the book is written as a diary Faulks makes it clear that passages of time have elapsed with no reference to the events during those times. When talking about previous events the writer makes it less clear that this is the case by jumping quickly from present to past, however the reader will soon realise this. The author structures and develops his ideas in the text quickly putting them upon the reader. Chapters will pass with no mention of the main plot story and instead present the life and happenings of Engleby before the author throws the main plot idea to the reader quickly with no warning. The text is very informal although uses more complex words at times to help back up the fact that Engleby was once taking a degree in English Literature. He is very cynical and quite keen to convey his great despair of the world that surrounds him although this is a little too predictable. As he ages from a young hopeful university undergraduate to a 52 year old mental institute patient his once satirical and witty words seem to become fewer and farther between showcasing the educational burden that spending years in such a environment affects you. He also repeats observations he had already made earlier in the book which further illustrate the lack of stimulation in an institute such as this one.

By reading back through certain parts of the book and analysing the text I feel that I have picked out certain things I missed during my initial reading. I can now understand the detrimental effect of spending seventeen years in a mental institute has had on Engleby. This caused the text to deterioate which I missed completely originally. Although initially it was apparent that Engleby was mocking about the surrounding world, the reasons for this pessimism became clearer after inspecting the book further. I consider that the author wanted to firstly paint a lucid picture of the almost “in limbo” period that was the early seventies.

He wanted to convey the feeling of student belief after the revolutionary sixties. Faulks wanted to also portray the psychological damage a broken childhood can have on a person. Engleby was clearly an intelligent man with a photographic memory although he sadly failed to reach his full academic potential owing to his difficult childhood when his father beat him, he was bullied at school and then his father died. The book was in some small way based on the writer’s life depicting the importance of having a good childhood. Faulks himself was a working class boy who achieved well academically and then progressed to an acclaimed university. He became a journalist and continued on to become a best selling novelist. Engleby on the other hand despite having a similar academic potential and a similar career path ended up in a mental institute for over seventeen years.

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