Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

eng(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This is a ‘whydunntti’ rather than a whodunnit.

 Do we really have free will?

The public school bullying is true to life, including the boy who simply masturbates down the back of the protagonist. No wonder he and some others wonder if he is gay.

He talks about teleology a lot – does life have any meaning other that what we make it?

 Themes: education, class, politics

I was at uni. at the same time as these people and, like them, wrote long letters home every Sunday afternoon – no emails and few phones back  then.

Unreliable narration: from the perspective of Engleby himself, who often obscures and misrepresents the events around him. This is most noticeable in the disappearance of Jennifer, to which he gives no indication of his involvement until the very end of the novel.

psychosis. mental illness: Engleby suffers from numerous panic attacks throughout the course of the novel and takes medication to prevent symptoms of anxiety. He occasionally alludes to feeling isolated, but rejects the idea that he suffers from depression.

Treatment of women: Engleby objectifies Jennifer throughout the novel. He stalks her by following her into lectures and attending her societies. He is frustrated when she attempts to leave the car after he gives her a lift home and murders her for being scared of him when he drives her off into a secluded area. Both he and his friend Stellings consider women to be inferior, and dismiss demands for sexual equality as ‘flak from grumpy feminists’, calling ideas of female equality ‘lies’.

eng-2

Was it a deliberate mistake to say that ‘Pitchfork’ was a cleared of murder on DNA evidence? He was convicted.

Quotations:

Once I saw a mother in a supermarket in Paddington — an obese, poor woman with bare legs and a small child who was making a noise. She swore at him and slapped him in the face, which only made him howl more. It wasn’t her fault really; she was clearly exhausted, broke and stretched to snapping point. But I knew that when she got the child home she ‘d beat him more, and if there was a father (a bit unlikely) he too would hit him.

And that child would slowly ascend towards full awareness in a world whose sky was violence and whose horizons were fear. And however resourceful he was, however patient and fortunate in the events of his life that followed, he was like a creature in a nest of imprisoning boxes who could never really break free. That was his world and any attempt to persuade him that it was merely a `subjective’ or ‘individual’ experience could never convince him.

And all of us, I think, are like him. We may think as we grow older that we know more, but in truth no one has an overarching view, no one can see in the round. We are like cards in a pack, and the king of spades is a better thing to be than the two of diamonds; but none of us is a dealer or a player with free will and power to dispose; none of us can see or understand the value of the entire deck, let alone the rules of the game in which it’s employed. Even the best of us is no more than an inert piece of card with some markings.

My name is Mike Engleby, and I’m in my second year at an ancient university,

‘I sometimes saw it as that evolutionary drawing of the crouched ape who by stages turns into an upright human.’

‘Something happened to this country, perhaps in the 1960s. We lost the past.’

“ ‘Late work.’ It’s just another way of saying feeble work. I hate it. Monet’s messy last waterlilies, for instance — though I suppose his eyesight was shot. ‘The Tempest’ only has about 12 good lines in it. Think about it. ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood.’ Hardly ‘Great Expectations,’ is it? Or Matisse’s paper cutouts, like something from the craft room at St. B’s. Donne’s sermons. Picasso’s ceramics. Give me strength.”

“I suppose all human ‘personalities’ are at some level makeshift or provisional”

“I suppose all human ‘personalities’ are at some level makeshift or provisional”

“I’d never chosen to be alone, but that was the way things had turned out, and I’d grown used to it.”

“Have you ever been lonely? No, neither have I. Solitary, yes. Alone, certainly. But lonely means minding about being on your own. I’ve never minded about it.”
“Inhale and hold the evening in your lungs.”
“One thing about London is that when you step out into the night, it swallows you.”
“The end-of-summer winds make people restless.”
“My direction? Anywhere. Because one is always nearer by not keeping still.”
“Lonely’s like any other organism; competitive and resourceful in the struggle to perpetuate itself.”
“And sometimes in life, I imagine, good things do happen. Most of the time, it’s the opposite, obviously. But I don’t think you should rule out the possibility that just occasionally chance might deal you a good card.”
“Gradually the feeling wears off, and I feel swamped again by the inexplicable pettiness of being alive.”
“One of the hardest things about being alive is being with other people.”
“Oh, the sweetness of giving in, of full surrender.”
“This is how most people live: alive, but not conscious; conscious but not aware; aware, but intermittently.”
“The thing about opium is that it makes pain or difficulty unimaginable.”
“The physical shock took away the pain of being.”
“We’re deaf men working as musicians; we play the music but we can’t hear it.”
“It was entirely silent and I tried to breathe its peace.”
“We all operate on different levels of awareness. Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I never for a moment considered killing myself, because it wouldn’t have achieved anything.”
“Time makes us pointless.”
“Why take drugs specifically designed to send you insane?”
“It’s only after the change is fully formed that you can see what’s happened.”
“…at such moments of extreme panic and anguish you do manage that trick with time: you are at last free from the illusion that time is linear.

In panic, time stops: past, present and future exist as a single overwhelming force. You then, perversely, want time to appear to run forwards because the ‘future’ is the only place you can see an escape from this intolerable overload of feeling. But at such moments time doesn’t move. And if time isn’t running, then all events that we think of as past or future are actually happening simultaneously. That is the really terrifying thing. And you are subsumed. You’re buried, as beneath an avalanche, by the weight of simultaneous events.”
“They’re so attached to their patterns that they’ve forgotten rule number one of human behavior: there are no patterns. People just do things. There’s no such things as a coherent and fully integrated human personality, let alone consistent motivation.”
“Grief is a peculiar emotion.”
“That’s what opium does to suffering: makes it of hypothetical interest only.”
“A bit of the vagueness of music stops you going completely mad, I imagine.”
“We’re not really conscious of what we’re doing most of the time.”
“All reality about me now appeared to be in tatters, taken down and reduced to the civil war of its particles. I held on very, very tight indeed. Because in addition to that feeling, that disintegration, there was rage. I wanted to break something.”
“I wonder what it’s like to be dead.”
“You can’t recall someone whose name has worn away.”
“I breathed and breathed and did feel some calmness enter in, though it was, as always, shot with a sense of loss. Loss and fear.”
“I don’t find life unbearably grave. I find it almost intolerably frivolous.”
“The thunder of false modesty was deafening.”
“Heisenberg and Bohr and Einstein strike me as being like gifted retriever dogs. Off they go, not just for an afternoon, but for ten years; they come back exhausted and triumphant and drop at your feet… a vole. It’s a remarkable thing in its way, a vole—intricate, beautiful really, marvellous. But does it… Does it help? Does it move the matter on?

When you ask a question that you’d actually like to know the answer to—what was there before the Big Bang, for instance, or what lies beyond the expanding universe, why does life have this inbuilt absurdity, this non sequitur of death—they say that your question can’t be answered, because the terms in which you’ve put it are logically unsound. What you must do, you see, is ask vole questions. Vole is—as we have agreed—the answer; so it follows that your questions must therefore all be vole-related.”
“I want to be careful not to throw all this away. This is happiness. I think this is what happiness is. I haven’t got it yet, but I can sense it out there. I feel I’m close to it. Some days, I’m so close I can almost smell it.”
“I’d become more adept at being with other people; I’d lowered my expectations of them and learned to let my mind drift into neutral when they spoke.”
“I felt trapped in a world that I couldn’t mould to my own desires. Others were in sunlight; I was in darkness.”
“She was so beautiful I had to move away.”
“The past was suddenly rushing in on me in a way I found hard to fight.”
“The best thing is the combined effect of nicotine with alcohol, greater than the sum of the two parts.”
“My own diagnosis of my problem is a simpler one. It’s that I share 50 per cent of my genome with a banana and 98 per cent with a chimpanzee. Banana’s don’t do psychological consistency. And the tiny part of us that’s different – the special Homo sapiens bit – is faulty. It doesn’t work. Sorry about that.”
“But I can hardly remember what it felt like. It’s like everything that happens to you. It doesn’t feel real.”
“I don’t like being rumbled, I like to be invisible.”
“There was a pretty young woman I used to see pegging out sheets and I worried that she would grow old there and that no one would know how beautiful she was. And maybe she would die without ever having really lived.”
“I looked at him on the bed. He coughed once and a trail of brownish dead blood came out of his mouth and ran down the side of his chin. Then he stopped breathing. And I thought, I’ll make sure I never end up here, either.”
“Until we can navigate in time, I’m not sure that we can prove that what happened is real.”
“These are things that help me if not lose then leave behind, what else, my self.”
“How grand, to be a Doctor of whatever and to weigh up and decide people’s future.”
“What a pair of frauds.”
“He really was a prize ass.”
“With no blame there’s no shame. A human society can’t exist without shame. Shame is like handedness or walking upright. It’s a central human attribute. In fact, it’s the first human quality ever recorded.’

‘Where?’

‘Genesis, Chapter Three. The covering of nakedness. The acquisition of shame was the first consequence of consciousness, of the speciating moment. Take shame from me and you are calling me pre-human.”
“All that once I’d known, I had forgotten.”
“If only I could have my time again.”
“The more you’re challenged, the more rigidly you assert your beliefs. You have nothing to lose because without your beliefs you’re nothing anyway: they make you what you are. It’s shit or bust.”
“The more I heard, the less I knew.”
“No, I want to take you out back and beat your fucking head on the floor.”
“All reality about me now appeared to be in tatters, taken down and reduced to the civil war of its particles. I held on very, very tight indeed.”
“To wake up and feel enlivened; to be in a hurry to get out of bed and into the day. To have friends you want to speak to, compare experiences with and be on the phone to…Well, to be honest, I’m still some way from that.”
“If you’re mad enough to have killed a dozen people you’re mad enough to be a fraction impatient. Surely?”

“That sense of happiness just out beyond my reach – I’m not sure I’d grasped that exactly, but I’d got something close to it, contentment maybe, or at least a functioning routine with regular rewards.”
“The thought of all that happiness was hard to bear. What’s the point of happiness when all it does is throw the facts of dying into clear relief?”
“I’m not going to miss all this, am I?”
“And in that history you’re trying to connect to something that once was yours – to something purer, better, something that you lost or something, maybe, that you never knew but that you feel you knew.”
“Busy is good, isn’t it? Busy means we’re hard at it, achieving our ends or “goals.” Haven’t had time to stop, or look around or think. That’s considered the sign of a life well lived. Although people complain of it – another year gone, where did that one go? – tacitly, they’re proud. Otherwise they wouldn’t do it: you put your time where your priority is.”
“And sometimes in life, I imagine, good things do happen. Most of the time, it’s the opposite, obviously. But I don’t think you should rule out the possibility that just occasionally chance might deal you a good card.”
Once I saw a mother in a supermarket in Paddington — an obese, poor woman with bare legs and a small child who was making a noise. She swore at him and slapped him in the face, which only made him howl more. It wasn’t her fault really; she was clearly exhausted, broke and stretched to snapping point. But I knew that when she got the child home she ‘d beat him more, and if there was a father (a bit unlikely) he too would hit him.

And that child would slowly ascend towards full awareness in a world whose sky was violence and whose horizons were fear. And however resourceful he was, however patient and fortunate in the events of his life that followed, he was like a creature in a nest of imprisoning boxes who could never really break free. That was his world and any attempt to persuade him that it was merely a `subjective’ or ‘individual’ experience could never convince him.

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