Mike Engleby is a bright boy from a working class background; so bright that he wins a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school and then gains a place at Cambridge University. Although he is a brilliant scholar, he also has a darker side. He steals seemingly for the sake of it and dabbles in drugs yet he manages to go on and forge a successful career.
The one bright spot in Engleby's Cambridge life is his friendship with Jen, a popular middle class girl. Jen goes missing without a trace one day despite extensive appeals for her to get in contact and a huge police investigation. Her disappearance causes huge waves in the lives of all those who knew her as the mystery deepens and Engleby will live with the consequences of this event for many years to come.
Engleby is written in the first person which makes the book one long narrative from a single point of view. I found this extremely dull and hard to read and would have thrown this book in the unreadable pile if it was not the choice for my bookgroup, I persevered and made it to the end and think I deserve a medal for ploughing through hundreds of pages of the ramblings of a misfit.
The plot is weak, it covers Englebys life from mid childhood for a few decades so there should be plenty happening but he just kind of plods along. The middle section of the book covers his career in London in the 1980s and there was some interesting and mildly amusing social comment in there about the politics of the day and class system but not enough to redeem the book.
There is only one central character, Engleby himself who is a loner and for the majority of the book I found I was indifferent to him. The only other characters who make cameo roles are the stereotyped middle class Jen and one or two incidental characters who were there simply to move the story along.
The book does eventually heat up a bit towards the end but even then the ending was pretty predictable.
Opinion about the book was mixed in my bookgroup with one or two people loving it, a couple of us hating it and a few inbetween. It did spark some interesting discussions on the nature of madness and how some people who are disordered can fit in with everyday life. The case of Jen had some similarities to the recent killing of Joe Yeats in Bristol and the first London riots were covered and we discussed the differences and similarities between the political landscape at the time of both events.
I found Engleby very hard work to read until about 2/3 of the way through when all of the different threads came together and started to make sense and then it became really interesting. Overall I wouldn't really recommend it as a good read simply because the effort needed to get to the good parts was too great and there are far better books out there.