I know he’s terribly fashionable right now due to Birdsong on the Beeb, but surely, readers, you’d agree that his output is inconsistent.
For my money, A Week in December is his best, but I’m a sucker for state-of-the-nation-today novels (Saturday by Ian McEwan another favourite in that category.) Birdsong I remember being a bit of a drag following the raunchy opening section, and a decade on I just have a depressing vague picture of a collapsing underground tunnel from the remaining 400 pages or so.
I didn’t set out to like Engleby, but I’m a slave to a page turner, and Faulks hooked me in good and proper. The blurb has some high falutin statements about the areas of society that are indicted by this searing narrative, etc, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch. This is a thriller/mystery, with a bit of a psycho at the helm, not a thoughtpiece. And on those terms, it’s a roaring success.
It’s bad form to write about the end of a novel, but with a couple of weeks’ perspective, it’s the last 2 pages that leave perhaps the most interesting facet – the discovery, after hundreds of pages of gradual revelation that the narrator is deluded and dangerous, of a soft and genuine incident which although it doesn’t change any of the book’s happenings, does throw a different light on many of them. Perhaps I’ve read too much modern fiction, but the can-we-trust-you-no narrative is a great deal less interesting to me than the we-can’t-trust-you-actually-yes-we-can-a-bit journey. It’s also a more interesting lesson, more reflective of the way any one person can be trusted on one level, not on another, yes on another, no on another…
I could write something about its lessons for the education system etc but it would be bollocks. You shouldn’t read it for that; you should read it if you like a slightly more British, institution-focussed American Psycho.