- Hardcover: 232 pages
- Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (Jan. 1 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0151010617
- ASIN: B000FUO0N8
- Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 14.1 x 2.4 cm
- Shipping Weight: 363 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
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
By the way, this collection, which I read after the shorter stories compiled recently and issued in the US as "Vanilla Bright Like Eminem" (reviewed by me), in its British version had featured as its title piece the shortest novella in "The Courage Consort," "The Fahrenheit Twins." Rather confusing, so I figured I'd clear it up for any transatlantic followers or readers of the fine print on the copyright acknowledgements of Faber's works.
Previous readers on this site have summarized the stories themselves, and fairly discussed their strengths or weaknesses. I agree, but when reading them, the ambiguities that later perplex me earlier have entertained me. That is, Faber-- so a blurb from The Scotsman notes on the inside flap-- "is fiercely inventive, his plotting wholly unpredictable, but he pulls no tricks." True, but whether readers will be pleased by Faber's skillfully disguised (at least before the conclusion) tendency to leave ends loosened rather than neatly tied up at a story's end may show whether one wants in fiction the messy versimilitude of "real life" along with the metaphors, digressions, symbolism, and characterization of any literary text. The stories do not end when you expect, nor do the characters meet the ends you expected.
"The Courage Consort" stayed with me akin to watching a multi-layered arthouse film. It did not satisfy all my questions, but in leaving them vague, the resonance somehow echoed the musical and sonic textures of the story itself. There were, unlike most popular narratives on screen or in print, many suggestions left unanswered. The cumulative flow of Faber's prose stands out; while individual sentences may not show off their precision, their total effect works to set mood and delve into motive well. The characters all turn recognizably familiar while remaining "types" as in an allegory. The omniscient voice tends to drift in and out of a main figure, and again this may frustrate readers wanting easier explanations. This story may be more to the taste of readers who have read other stories by Faber.
Similarly, "The Hundred and Ninety Nine Steps" sets up with its Whitby setting, Dracula references, Gothic and murder and monastic settings all sorts of intricacies, perhaps intentionally left all about at the end of the story half-connected, perhaps since Faber wished to simply conclude rather than tie up the loose ends tediously. I liked the clash of Sian's medievalism with Mack's yuppie motives, but their exchanges appeared too mannered, and not only on her side as would be expected. The dog turned out to be my favorite of the trio! The mood of the historic seaport works well, but quirks remain-- why the Welsh name of the protagonist? Why is her surname a secret? What's the point of her mid-career curatorial switch? This story would appeal most to readers who liked "Crimson."
I wasn't as taken by the Fahrenheit twins; their arch names and the kitschy nature of her fairytale parents and their Siberian second home appeared to lack the grounding in reality that the previous two stories had established. This does show Faber's range and his imagination, but the story's dialogue and the narrator's coy tone served as barriers between my understanding of as opposed to my enjoyment of this story. It's ambitious in the way many of his stories are in "Vanilla," and this story as a fable proves uneven, if perhaps a good choice for readers of "Vanilla" or "Under the Skin."
Faber remains a favorite writer of mine for his ideas, his refusal to find the easy way out of his fictional labyrinths, and his intelligence. He may not follow the lead of so many genre writers who never give you a detail or a character that they cannot account for later. The prodigality of Faber's invention may make him a figure admired by a few rather than many, but he seems to have found his style and may it serve him and us well for many more decades of quality fiction on whatever he sees fit to make into his next novel or story. (Between 3 and 4 stars.)
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