Michel Faber's 2002 novel THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE was a
sprawling, splendid novel, large in scale and hefty in size. His
new offering, THE COURAGE CONSORT, contains three novellas no less
dazzling, despite their shorter length and smaller scope.
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
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 on December 28, 2010
The Courage Consort