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The Courage Consort: Three Novellas Hardcover – November 1, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010615
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,105,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sebastien Pharand on December 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
There is no doubt that Faber is a great modern novelist. The Crimson Petal and the White is an amazing book, and Under the Skin is a great original tale. Faber writes original plots that take you to a place and time you've never been before. But with the Courage Consort, Faber offers us three short tales that, while usually entertaining, are not as fascinating as his novels.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
In this collection of three wildly divergent novellas Faber creates varied and vividly imagined worlds where the central/core theme is one of survival and renewal. Each masterfully written segment is amazing in its own way - multi-layered, absorbing, rich with an air of menace (unsettling), and a recurring habit of smashing all notions of predictability. The surprises blindsided me every time. My favorite novella was 'The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps' about a strange isolated woman on an archaeological dig. However, all three stories left a strong impression. It must have been nice for Mr. Faber to work on some shorter pieces after his mammoth novel 'The Crimson Petal and the White'.
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Format: Hardcover
Not one of these three earnest novellas really appealed to me--yet I cherished and treasured all of them. The various characters were flawed (as are all characters), and their subsequent interactions and conflict mundane, yet I still remained transfixed as I turned each page. Let's see: a singing ensemble, an insecure anthropologist, and two tiny twins above the Artic Circle. . .none of the above really interests me. Yet Michel Faber's amazing gift with the written word made his three-novella collection, named THE COURAGE CONSORT, an absolutely spellbinding, mystical, existential, and satisfying reading experience.

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
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Format: Hardcover
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 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.
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