rating: 5 of 5 stars
Michael Engleby is a seductive character, highly intelligent, acerbic, an underdog who has struggled to get ahead in life. But he is not quite loveable. As a matter of fact he can be downright sinister. Sympathy for the abuse he suffered as a boy at boarding school, dissipates as he, in turn, becomes the abuser. Heavy drug and alcohol use, and the convenient literary device of memory lapses, let us know early on in the game that something is afoot. A memory lapse is the traditional Chekhovian rifle hanging on the wall in the first act. WE KNOW that something must have happened, even if his memory is blank.
Despite this obvious shortcoming as a reliable narrator, Engleby manages to be very convincing. One reason for this is the wealth of details he provides about the time period. His attention to detail is almost autistic, and he has a prodigious memory; a sort of idiot savant.
The book is told entirely from Engleby's perspective, until we get to see some of the psychologist's notes at the end. It does come as a bit of a shock when we are confronted with the reality of an outsider's perspective. Someone was suggesting that this might make a good movie, but I would strongly disagree: the whole reason that the story works is because of its deliberately narrow perspective. We are viewing the world through a different reality... and that reality is pretty warped…but it is eerie the degree to which one can be sucked into it, to the point that it almost (almost!) sounds normal. Michael Engleby, a.k.a. Mike, Toilet, Groucho, Irish Mike, Mike (!), Prufrock, Michele Watts, or Michael Watson, is one sad, sick puppy. It is, however, a delightfully creepy little book.
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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
rating: 4 of 5 stars
Maggie O'Farrell revives the art of the gothic novel in this story about a woman who unexpectedly is given custody of her great-aunt who has spent the past sixty plus years in a psychiatric hospital. The story unfolds in unexpected twists and turns, narrated from different perspectives, finally revealing how 16 year-old Esme ended up being admitted to Cauldstone Hospital, and how this changed the course of her life, and that of her sister Kitty. The author addresses issues like social expectations, family relations, sibling love and rivalry, and the notion of what constitutes madness and how it is construed… or misconstrued. Perceptively and sensitively written, this was a book that I could not put down. Highly recommended.
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