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Faulks Follows a Disturbed Life in 'Engleby'

Oct 20, 2007 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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The chilling traits of the title character in Sebastian Faulks' new novel, Engleby, may remind readers of recent criminals in the headlines.

Mike Engleby, an intelligent loner, is mocked by his fellow students throughout his school career. He narrates the book coldly, with increasing detachment, and confesses to memory lapses, during which he can't account for his actions.

Engleby becomes fixated on a classmate, Jennifer Arkland, who is brutally murdered. Police never solve the crime, though they suspect Engleby. Meanwhile, Engleby's bouts of memory loss and his deepening psychosis shroud his character in a disturbing light.

Faulks, author of several novels, including the 1993 best-seller, Birdsong, keeps readers constantly off balance in a book that spans from the 1970s to 2006. Engleby starts his college life as an English student, then switches to natural sciences. Eventually he becomes a journalist in London — much like Faulks, who spent 14 years as a journalist before turning to novels.

Engleby uses cold scientific metaphors to describe his life and the people around him. As the novel progresses, Jennifer Arkland's murder comes back to haunt him. When the case reopens, long-suppressed memories bubble to the surface.

Scott Simon spoke with Faulks about his disturbing coming-of-age story.

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