Friday, October 16, 2009

Sebastian Faulks' Engleby and Mozart in words

Currently I am reading the novel Engleby by Sebastian Faulks and I enjoy it greatly. I picked it up in a library of the old sort - the kind you have in old manor houses. Amongst various philosophical books and other kinds of nonfiction, this gem was hiding. Once again, Vintage shows a real knack for good covers. This cool, yet somewhat mystic cover certainly made me interested.

BUT this was supposed to be a small post about a funny passage I read in this novel. The story is told in first person, and the first sentence (a theme not uninteresting), goes like this: "My name is Mike Engleby, and I'm in my second year at an ancient university." The following sentence nuances what kind of narrator we're dealing with: "My college was founded in 1662, which means it's viewed here as modern." Short and to the point, but with a chilly, detached and sarcastic undertone. The style is sophisticated, smart and slightly unnerving.
This narrator called Mike Engleby has a distanced view of the world and seems after a while to go from critical and laconic to half-mad and on the outside looking in. He comments his surroundings and his own history with a somewhat disinterested voice, even when what he reports is rather disturbing. It is as if he is on a stabilizer drug, not allowing either emotional highs or lows (and slowly as the novel unfolds you begin to suspect he is not completely trustworthy - he certainly does his share of illegal drugs, and the turn of the story with a disappeared girl he seems obsessed with, makes you think that you're being presented with a very limited version of the truth).
But what first struck me about this novel was the compelling, smart, witty, intelligent voice that opened up and led me through the story. As an outsider to the British ancient university and educational system, this seemed to me an interesting peephole into that honourably stoneclad and dusty space. The narrator is obviously bright, having started in English literature before he transferred to Natural sciences. This kind of witty, inventive and knowing narrator's voice seems almost absent from the Norwegian literary scene. More of that, please!
SO what about this funny passage? It is really quite simple and short, but it made me laugh out loud while reading it on my flight from London to Oslo earlier this week. He simply portrays the way Mozart turns his musical motives:
I can't see the point in Mozart. Of Mozart I can't see the point. The point
of Mozart I can't see. See I can't of Mozart the point. Can't I of Mozart point
the see... I can't see the point of Mozart.
That's not a tune, it's an algorithm. An algorithm in a powdered wig.
See what I mean about witty and compelling? I have to smile again, reading it a second time.
Perhaps I shall write a followup to this post when I have read the whole book - it is always a danger to describe a book when you haven't read the whole thing. But I think I am beginning to understand the plot here, and things are not looking good for poor dear wacky Engleby.