March 3, 2008

Too awful to finish: "Engleby," by Sebastian Faulks

(Longtime followers of my creative projects know that in general I don't like publishing bad reviews; that for the most part I see it as a waste of both my time and yours, in that I could be spending that time instead pointing out great artists you may have never heard of. However, since one of the things this website is dedicated to is honest artistic criticism, I also feel it's important to acknowledge books that I found just too bad to bother finishing, as well as give you an idea of why I found them that bad to begin with. Hence, this series of short essays. Don't forget, the entire list of books I've found too awful to finish can be found on CCLaP's main book review page.)

Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks

The Accused: Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks (Doubleday / ISBN: 978-0-385-52405-6)

How far I got: 220 pages (two-thirds of the way through)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, unlike most of the other books at CCLaP that were too awful to finish, Engleby stands accused of only one crime -- of simply never telling an interesting-enough story for me to want to stick it through to the very end. Oh, I tried, ladies and gentlemen, oh how I tried, especially with the book itself being founded on a serviceable-enough premise: it's the bildigsroman (life story) of a young British wisp of a nobody named Mike Engleby, an anti-social everyman who never really engages with his fellow humans nor ever really lives a full human life; who has some sort of dark story in his past regarding a female classmate and a violent death, but that we don't know in detail because of Engleby's habit of binge-drinking combined with the constant popping of mysterious blue pills, leading to giant holes in his memory that he can only recall with dreamlike haziness as he tells us his story.

But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that turns out to be it; after setting up this intriguing premise in the first 25 pages, Faulks then spends another 300 basically saying, "Yep, he's still anti-social and a little creepy. Yep, he still binge-drinks and takes little blue pills. Yep, we still don't quite know what if anything he had to do with the mysterious disappearance of some girl in college he barely knew, and that he can barely recall anymore why he liked in the first place." Engleby isn't badly written, not by a long shot; it's just that it's pointless, it's so f--king pointless, with a storyline that would barely fuel a short story under other circumstances and characters that you never grow to love or hate or understand or experience any other emotion at all. By the end, the entire thing feels more like a literary exercise than a piece of entertainment, something forced on you against your will in a classroom environment to analyze for a grade, instead of something you voluntarily choose as a hard-working adult to read and enjoy. I felt bad about ultimately abandoning this book, because like I said there's nothing wrong per-se about what's actually there; but after three days of being stymied around page 220, not feeling any enthusiasm about picking the book up again (and having my entire reading queue suffer for it), I finally just had to admit that this book was simply not worth trying to finish.

Verdict: Reluctantly guilty.

Sentence: A quiet retirement to an undisclosed health facility in the country. God have Mercy on Sebastian Faulks' Earnest Yet Plot-Challenged Soul, Amen.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:36 AM, March 3, 2008. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |