The Courage Consort: Three Novellas Hardcover – Bargain Price, Jan 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
The loss of innocence, the urgency of sexual need and the persistence of inner demons unite these three fine novellas, further evidence of the wide-ranging imagination, ironic humor and incisive characterization Faber displayed in The Crimson Petal and the White. Siân, in "The 199 Steps," is working on an archeological dig in England when she encounters Mack, a gorgeous fitness buff. As Siân and Mack try to decipher the clues to a 1788 murder, Siân's dreams of a handsome man slitting her throat grow in intensity, paralleling the grisly facts she brings to light. The denouement is surprising—and satisfying—for what does not happen. In "The Fahrenheit Twins," Tainto'lilith and Marko'cain are pre-adolescent twin brother and sister living in the Arctic tundra with their eccentric parents, both anthropological researchers. When their mother dies, their father encourages them to voyage alone into the wilderness with her body tied to a sled. Catherine Courage, of the title story, is the soprano member of an avant-garde musical ensemble that has gathered in a Belgian chateau to rehearse a fiendishly difficult piece. Suffering through a July heat wave, Catherine is driven to desperation by an eerie cry she hears in the night. A tragedy, however, provides the reality shock she needs. While this is a slighter effort than Faber's previous work, readers will again be immersed in the intense worlds he creates.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Faber's knack for disquieting atmospherics, a la his brilliant first novel, Under the Skin (2000), distinguishes these three novellas but doesn't prevent them from ending rather happily. They are stories of healing in the au courant sense of regaining emotional equilibrium. In "The Courage Consort," the soprano of a vocal quintet her husband directs progresses from suicidal anxiety to relative equanimity as the group rehearses a difficult new piece that sudden death prevents them from premiering. In "The Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps," a woman resolves her trauma over losing a leg and her lover because of a senseless accident; by means romantic and eerie, a handsome young doctor, his late father's dog, and a manuscript in a bottle are the catalysts of her transformation. In the entrancing "The Fahrenheit Twins"--perhaps a coming-of-age parable--brother and sister Marko'cain and Tainto'lilith, born and reared in arctic isolation, quest far from home for a signal from the universe telling them what to do with their mother's corpse. Faber's literary artistry in all three pieces is consummate. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The title story, The Courage Consort, is also the collection's weakest. A group of opera singers go to a mansion in the middle of the woods to practice their latest show in solitude. The story's heroine, Catherine, is a troubled and depressed woman who doesn't know what she wants out of life anymore. Or, for that matter, if she even has the will to live another day. Although the tale offers many touching moments, in the end, it ends up nowhere. This allegory of life and death isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
The Hundred and Ninety-nine Steps is a very good mystery about an archeologist's obssession with an old document that has just been recovered. She also uses this document as a pretense to let herself fall in love with a mysterious young doctor. Although the story is very entertaining, it is rather long-winded and, at times, repetitive. I wanted to know more about that mysterious document than about the characters.
The real reason to read this collection is for the last, and shortest story of the lot : The Farenheit Twins. When Tainto and Marko lose their mother, they leave on a trek into the wild winter woods to bury her body. But their father has really sent them on a suicide mission from which they are not supposed to return. This modern Hansel and Gretel tale is touching, moving and very effective. This is what a Faber story is all about.
I have to admit that I was disappointed by The Courage Consort. Yes, thewriting is beautiful, as always, and yes his characters are usually very interesting. But these qualities were not enough to save the collection. Although none of the stories are bad or not enjoyable, I've come to expect more and better from Faber. Please oh please give us another Crimson Petal or Under the Skin!
The "Guardian" of London says of Faber: "This is a man who could give Conrad a run at writing the perfect sentence." Darn right. Faber's writing is clean, concise, compelling--a fluid nirvana of perfectly-matched nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions. The prose is nothing short of brilliant: the author manipulates the English language like a sorcerer waving an hpynotic wand. The result: reading that rolls off the tip of the tongue, like sampling a wine of inestimable value.
Faber is good, very good; this novella collection is positively as riveting as his post-Victorian masterpiece, "The Crimson Petal And The White." As a matter of fact, Faber has demonstrated, via his surreal prose, that he has grown even more as a writer--which makes reading him the epitome of literary pleasure.
--D. Mikels, Author, WALK-ON
In the title novella, the Courage Consort is "the seventh-most-renowned serious vocal ensemble in the world." Secluded in a Belgian chateau to rehearse a fiendishly difficult piece by a contemporary composer, the five singers soon reveal that their relationships are as dissonant as the music they perform. When tragedy strikes, the members of the Courage Consort, particularly Catherine Courage, must reevaluate their commitments to their music and to each other.
The second novella, entitled "The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps," is set in the medieval English city of Whitby. Siân is a young archaeologist who --- literally and figuratively --- carries remnants of war-torn Bosnia with her, and who is haunted each night by dreams "of being first seduced, then murdered." She soon meets an alluring stranger named Magnus who, despite his ancient name, ridicules the history that Siân reveres. The two of them uncover a two-hundred-year-old "murder" mystery with a surprising twist.
In the final novella "The Fahrenheit Twins" is a boy named Marko'cain and a girl named Tainto'lilith. Raised in a frigid climate by their anthropologist parents studying a polar tribe, the two are growing up in an atmosphere of "benign neglect." Left primarily to their own devices, and without any external cultural or social influences, the two develop their own set of primitive rituals and superstitions. When their mother dies, the two children set off to "wait for a signal from the universe as to the best thing to do with the body." In this modern-day Hansel and Gretel tale, the siblings' quest leads them to reevaluate their assumptions about their parents' relationships, the nature of their work, and the structure of their family.
In each of these brief novellas, Faber constructs a wholly developed world, whether it be a bleak polar outpost or a claustrophobic Belgian forest. These settings help envelop the reader in the story and create an environment as rich and lush as any full-length novel. With THE COURAGE CONSORT, Faber proves himself a master of creating imaginative, engrossing fiction, whether slight or sprawling.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
The title story, The Courage Consort, is arguably a metaphor for the process of birth, as an a cappella consort isolates in the wilderness to rehearse the difficult composition of a postmodernist. Although the effort is met with intransigence and unexpected complications, the intense mix of characters creates a rich backdrop for the inevitable creative conflicts. Yet all are bound in service to the whole and find strength in their shared talents.
"The Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps" exhibits a lonelier aspect, as well as a brooding air of suspense. Sian, an archeologist, is confronted by the vast territory of loss, albeit with the potential for hope; she literally stumbles through a present that has yet to address a tragic past, haunted by nightmares that hint of a terrible reality. Here again, Faber avoids the obvious, leading skillfully through the scars of war, an archeological dig, possible violence, an old mystery and a surprising denouement.
The shortest of the three pieces, "The Fahrenheit Twins", also touches upon archeology, but with a twist, as two children, Tainto'lilith and Marko'cain, confront a different reality after the death of their mother. A New Age Hansel and Gretel, the children's burial voyage is transformative, the shedding of childhood illusions and the consequent discovery of an illuminated future.
All in all, this carefully crafted trilogy proves Faber's skill as a writer, a distinctive talent with a singular voice. Luan Gaines/2004.