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by Sebastian Faulks
Vintage, March 2008
352 pages
$7.99 GPB
ISBN: 0099458276

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I may well be one of the few readers on the planet who hasn't read any of Sebastian Faulks's French trilogy. And he seemed a tad dismissive of the thriller genre when he got the nod to write an official James Bond novel to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming's birth. But ENGLEBY turns out to be a writing of the highest order and it's definitely a mystery yarn.

Mike Engleby is a working-class lad who wins a place at a top English university. He never names it, but there's little doubt that it's supposed to be Cambridge. He's the archetypal outsider, who observes from a distance and is never quite one of the in-crowd.

Jennifer Arkland is definitely one of the favoured. She's a nice girl from a good middle-class home, with a well-developed social conscience and a circle of adoring friends. But she disappears, and the lives of Mike and his fellow students will never be the same again.

It's difficult to review a book like ENGLEBY without giving too much away. But to be honest the plot is probably the least interesting part of it. What recommends it ahead of virtually any book I've read this year (or last, for that matter) is its narrative energy, its sense of fun (and that may sound odd given the fact it's a mystery) and the intelligence that drives it. Faulks is a master of dark humour, coupled with throwaway dry, wry comments. What you get is tightly-woven and impeccable storytelling where nothing is quite as it seems.

On the surface ENGLEBY is a clever character study of an enigmatic character who never quite fits in anywhere he goes. But beneath that it's a sophisticated use of the narrative form that incorporates political, sociological and personal themes. Even though they're ostensibly miles apart, the book reminded me of the way Denise Mina uses Paddy Meehan to map the changing face of a nation.

ENGLEBY is dark, funny and impossible to put down. I doubt I shall read a better book this year.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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