Sunday, July 26, 2009

Three satisfying novellas

I've enjoyed Michel Faber's two previous novels, The Crimson Petal and the White and Under the Skin, immensely. The Crimson Petal and the White is one of the most unforgettable novels set in Victorian England with a prostitute named Sugar as the main character. It's a lengthy read at more than 700 pages, but the effort is well worth it. It's funny and touching at the same time. Under the Skin is just plain creepy. You have the read it for that Twilight Zone-esque ending. After reading these novels, I've become a huge fan of Michel Faber, the author who was born in the Netherlands, grew up in Australia, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. He's not a prolific writer though, with his novels being spaced several years from one another.

When I saw Faber's collection of novellas, The Courage Consort, in a bookstore, I just knew I had to buy it. The book, which consists of three novellas, is a very short read. I even finished half of it on my way home, since it takes me around 1 to 1.5 hours to get from my office to my house (2 hours if the traffic is really bad).

The title novella, "The Courage Consort," is probably the best of the three. It focuses on the sexual tension among the five members of a British a cappella vocal ensemble. It's probably the finest novella I've read ever. The second one, "The Hundred and Ninety-nine Steps" involves an archeological dig and a murder that happened several years ago. In the third and final novella, "The Fahrenheit Twins," Faber retells the classic fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

There's a characteristic common to all the three novellas though, one that you'll come to expect if you've read Faber's previous works, and that is the element of unpredictability. In "The Courage Consort," several things go wrong as the members rehearse a very complicated vocal piece -- the Partitum Mutante. The murder mystery in "The Hundred and Ninety-nine Steps" is never fully resolved. The children in "The Fahrenheit Twins" have mixed feelings as they find their way back home.


Charlie said...

Thanks, Peter, for introducing me to Faber **Charlie scribbles titles on back of grocery store receipt**

Peter S. said...

Hi Charlie! You should start with Under the Skin. It's beautiful in an odd, creepy way.