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The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  736 ratings  ·  40 reviews
In The Fatal Englishman, his first work of nonfiction, Sebastian Faulks explores the lives of three remarkable men. Each had the seeds of greatness; each was a beacon to his generation and left something of value behind; yet each one died tragically young.

Christopher Wood, only twenty-nine when he killed himself, was a painter who lived most of his short life in the beau m
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 12th 2002 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Zainab Magdy
May 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Faulks is a brilliant writer, The Fatal Englishman was the first nonfiction book that I read for him and I dont like nonfiction. The book presents the lives of three young English men who died very young and all the pressures laid on them by the society. The book is at times painful but it is very real and raw in Faulks' usual mellow, soft and intense prose. ...more
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sebastian Faulks' triple biography, "The Fatal Englishman," is an engrossing read. By combining three short but incisive bios of three Englishmen from different areas (the arts, wartime aviation, journalism) and different decades of the 20th century, Faulks pulls off a difficult challenge. There are common themes running through the lives of these men; each died early after achieving some prominence in their fields. All three grew up with high expectations for success from teachers, family and f ...more
Nov 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
A riveting study of the English psyche through three mysterious and complex men, and the people that surrounded them. Written with compassion and style by Faulks, who brings his talent as a novelist to this original approach to biography. It's often quite moving, and the men he has chosen to analyze are fascinating characters. That everything is true makes this book even more interesting. ...more
George Siehl
Having read Richard Hillary's impressive memoir, The Last Enemy, I saw a Goodreads reviewer noted that Faulks had written this book, which included a brief biography of Hillary. For that reason I read this book and found the portion on Hillary, a Battle of Britain airman, well done. While Faulks revisits what Hillary had written in 1942, he also adds to the story, detailing the airman's death in a plane crash that same year. It was a rewarding insight.

The other two brief biographies were less en
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is something of a rarity: biographies of three young Englishman by a celebrated English novelist...who has his own fatal attraction for readers of fiction...& in one 300 page book. Christopher Wood, an artist...Richard Hillary, a fighter pilot in 1940...& Jeremy Wolfenden...a brilliant misfit in post-war England...all three men with inclinations that defied social respectability...all extraordinarily fated to die, already spent forces of both nature & English individuality...all three self- ...more
Nov 30, 2017 marked it as to-read
Recommendation from Jennie (@foxedquarterly) - 11/30/2017
Nov 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book indeed, which gets better as it goes along.

The first biography, of artist Christopher Wood, is good. The second, of Battle of Britain ace RIchard Hillary, is very good, and the third - journalist, spy, and flawed genius Jeremy Wolfenden - is excellent.

Nov 26, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Not sure about this one. I reached the end and thought “What was the point”? Did I miss it? Three young men who died in their youth, a painter, a war pilot, a spy/journalist/hedonist. Two were homosexual. All are now relatively unknown. I struggled to see further connections. Like I’ve thought before with Faulks, sometimes he writes with an urgency and style that makes the pages fly past, while at other times it’s all so turgid that you wonder how he could bear to sit and write it, never mind re ...more
Geraldine O'Donnell
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Excellent choice of subjects. Is there a link between Jeremy and the setting for "on green dolphin street" or am I letting the cold war paranoia take hold? A very scholarly book and too short. Hope the author tries this again. ...more
Artur Nowrot
These are three stories about young Englishmen who start off very promising and then head for disaster (and death at a very young age). It's very sad, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to take from that. ...more
Juan José
Dec 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Three short lives, one great book!!
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
The Fatal Englishman made a big impression on me when I first read it twenty or so years ago, and, finding it again in a second hand bookshop prompted me to read it once more. In just over 300 pages, Sebastian Faulks tells the brief life stories of three gilded but doomed young men. Christopher’Kit’ Wood was a talented painter who moved in the same Parisian circles as Picasso, Diaghilev and Jean Cocteau, but struggled with an opium addiction that eventually led to mental breakdown and suicide; R ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: uk
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The lives of three flawed and therefore 'fatal' men from the 20th century. Each story is told with a mixture of biography and investigative journalism. The three men are linked in various ways...explicitly via family and common acquaintances, and morally through their relationships, motivations and fa al flaws. This is a great evocation of recent history, intermingling art, religion, relationships, class, education and various other facets of English life. ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really moving account of three brilliant young 20th century lives cut short. A great theme and really well researched and written.
Jeremy Wolfenden was especially fascinating: Faulks writes about how you’d have expected all his very brilliant contemporaries to have gone on to build a just, intelligent and strong society in Britain, but this just didn’t really happen.
May 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A psychological history of a country, during the 20th Century, through the biographical sketches of its doomed youth. Fascinating biography, with the pacing of a thriller. War as the backdrop, alcohol as the lubricant, death as the end. Complex, while being effortless to read. Sebastian Faulks' does something quietly remarkable with The Fatal Englishman. ...more
Marcus Bicknell
I find this book inspirational, both for the three real life characters and for the dark mood and inevitability of their endings which Faulks communicates. A fascinating book.

Declaration of a special interest... on of the characters, WWII pilot Richard Hillary, knew my father Wing Commander Nigel Bicknell DSO DFC and mentions him on more than one occasion in his own biography THE LAST ENEMY.
Toby Bond
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Three lives cut short in the bloom of youth in the 30's, 40's and 60's. An artist, a pilot and a journalist (Christopher Wood, Richard Hillary and Jeremy Wolfenden) all brilliant and flawed men that may have achieved so much if they had not contributed to their own demise. ...more
Hannah Cook
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I didn’t think it was as amazing as I did when I read it in the 90s. I can see why I loved it though. Early 20th C glamour and tragedy. I just wished it was about women instead. Made me want to read Mitfords again.
Judith Chambers
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Have stopped reading this book because I found the first story became boring. May come back to it at some point.
Usually I enjoy books by Sebastian Faulks and rate them highly.
John Higgins
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Stirring stuff.
Ed Garbett
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
I did not find the biographical accounts too interesting. I hope Mr Faulks sticks to fiction as he is an excellent writer.
Val  Nefyodova
Jun 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Loved the first story; enjoyed the second one; never finished the third.
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, three individuals I had never heard of, but had an impact in their times.
Joe Hitchcock
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
Three too long and tedious Wikipedia articles.
Sister Morticia
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting book which is actually three separate biographies of doomed but brilliant (in their own ways) English men. None of the men are connected in any way; never met, different decades, different careers, different lives, but all died young and seemed to represent their generation. I found the writing style quite dry, so didn't really connect enough with the book, but an interesting read nonetheless. ...more
Jun 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
The Fatal Englishman is an unusual kind of biography. It traces the lives of three Englishmen - Christopher Wood, Richard Hillary and Jeremy Wolfenden - who shared no connection with one another other than their talent, their ambition, their arrogance, and their early and tragic deaths. Christopher 'Kit' Wood was a painter who moved in some up of the upper echelons of English and French bohemian society in the 1920s; Richard Hillary a fighter pilot in the RAF in the Battle of Britain, who wrote ...more
Feb 17, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
While the three mini-biographies in this volume were clearly told, I reamin unsure as to why it recieved plaudits. There were some links between the lives and fates of the men that justified putting them together but for me it was nothing special, sorry.

The story of the self-destructive airman was the most powerful - maybe because of it's position at the end it gained strength by being an implicit commentary on the other two lives ... or is that just me trying to be as deep as a more literary r
Sep 29, 2011 rated it liked it
I cannot say I thoroughly enjoyed this read as it has made me very disquieted & I had to read something else pretty quickly.
I agree with another reviewer that it reflects the society the men grew up in & the problems within it. I already knew something of Christopher Wood as I am a practising artist & have been familiar with a lot of his work since I was an undergraduate in the 1970s. I had heard something of Richard Hillary & his book but I was ignorant about Jeremy Wolfenden till I read this
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had read it a many years back and I remember it impacting me profoundly. This is a collection of short biographies of lives tragically cut short (the indication is pointedly towards self-destruction), but what sets this piece apart is the fact that the prodigious protagonists in the book did not have it easy at all. Their experiences with societal idiosyncrasies were pretty much the same as what the common folks face on a daily basis. The book brings out the overarching role of our community i ...more
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Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953, and grew up in Newbury, the son of a judge and a repertory actress. He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution. Cambridge in the 70s was still quite male-dominated, and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl. He was the first literary editor of “The Independe ...more

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