The Courage Consort

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9780156032766: The Courage Consort

With his elegant prose and perceptive imagination, the bestselling author of The Crimson Petal and the White creates a unique, self-contained world, where the perennial human drama plays out in all its passion and ambiguity. In these acclaimed novellas, Michel Faber takes on the interior world of inventively crafted characters. "The Courage Consort" tells of an a capella vocal ensemble sequestered in a Belgian chateau to rehearse a monstrously complicated new piece. But competing artistic temperaments and sexual needs create as much discordance as the avant-garde music. In "The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps," a lonely woman joins an archaeological dig at Whitby Abbey and unearths a mystery involving a long-hidden murder. In "The Fahrenheit Twins," strange children, identical in all but gender and left alone at the icy zenith of the world by their anthropologist parents, create their own ritual civilization.

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Admirers of Belgian writer Michel Faber's magnificent breakthrough novel, The Crimson Petal and the White, may be surprised by how well his taut but unhurried prose translates to shorter fiction in the three novellas of The Courage Consort. It helps, of course, that the stories--minor marvels of suspenseful pacing and atmosphere--are unified by a large, old-fashioned theme: the loss of innocence (and, in one case, the struggle to preserve it). In the title story, an English vocal ensemble travels to Belgium for a two-week residency at a rural chateau, an opportunity to rehearse a notoriously difficult and possibly pointless new composition. Catherine, the soprano--and the dependent, emotionally fragile wife of the ensemble's director--hears plangent cries from the surrounding woods each night. Like Mrs. Dalloway, Catherine feels herself approaching middle age without having achieved adulthood. If she goes into the woods--facing the ghostly legend of a simple-minded mother and her baby, lost there near the end of World War II--will she find her grown-up self? The second novella, "The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps," traces a paper conservator's nightly unraveling of an 18th century oil merchant's tight-scrolled deathbed confession. And the third, "The Fahreinheit Twins," is one part Angela Carter, one part Jack London: a scary fairy tale translated to a glittering ice-bound wilderness.

Events that would be sensational in the hands of most writers--gruesome nightmares, hauntings, possible murders--are serenely dispatched by Faber, who has bigger emotional game in sight. And while every writer has characteristic tics and favorite phrases, the joy here is in observing Faber's growing mastery, and how few the limits on his talent. --Regina Marler

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Published in hardcover by Harcourt, 2004, 0-15-101061-7

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