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Old 20th Sep 2005, 0:29   #1
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Smile Michel Faber

The Courage Consort (Buy this from Amazon)
Michel Faber

Michel Faber’s The Courage Consort is one of those books where you wish it were longer or part of a collection. A novella of 150 pages it follows the story of a group of singers sent to Belgium for two weeks in order to rehearse a new avant-garde piece for an upcoming event. As they spend more time in each other’s company the group falls apart due to personality conflicts and personal problems.

Roger Courage is the founder of the singing group, named The Courage Consort, although the courage in their name comes from their willingness to tackle contemporary pieces in addition to the traditional standards. His wife, Catherine, is a manic depressive who, in preparation for the trip to Belgium, has forgotten her pills. Ben is an overweight bass singer who lives in his own personal world of silence. Julian is a seemingly bisexual vocalist with a love for Bohemian Rhapsody. And Dagmar, a young German, is the opposite of Catherine in her love for life; she has also, for the trip, brought along her newborn child, Axel.

The book begins with Catherine Courage sitting on the window ledge contemplating whether the four storey drop would be enough to kill her as her husband sit in the next room. As it continues the quintet spend the days practising Partitum Mutante, the avant-garde piece of Italian composer Pino Fugazzi, while the nights provide them with an over exposure to each other that leads to constant arguments about the direction the group should take. Their inability to work with each other leads to an incident that eventually breaks up the group, who are “possibly the seventh most renowned in the world”, although there is some hope for the group as evidenced by the optimistic ending.

The prose is light, the vocabulary restrained, and the plot simple. There is humour in this book but it’s not laugh out loud funny; the Brits’ interpretations of European accents, and the way characters communicate with each other. The characters are nicely done although the woman were better drawn than the males, a common occurrence in Faber’s work. Catherine, as the main character, is well conceived – her thoughts were realistic, her dialogue seemed right, and her mania added that extra bit of depth.

Faber’s novella is a good read, although, like in The Crimson Petal and the White, he leaves a few things unanswered – the source of a recurring noise from the nearby forest being a prime example – but this does provide scope for interpretation. Maybe we can presume that some parts of the story are delusions of Catherine’s. The Courage Consort almost succeeds as a standalone book, but I couldn’t help but feel that the characters needed a little more to fully appreciate them. That said, the story is still worth appreciating.
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Old 20th Sep 2005, 4:42   #2
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Default Re: Michel Faber: The Courage Consort

Thanks for the recommendation. I've not read The Crimson Petal and the White, though I have read Faber's first novel, UNDER THE SKIN, which was a fascinating piece of dystopian literature. Check it out if you haven't!
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Old 20th Sep 2005, 12:48   #3
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Default Re: Michel Faber: The Courage Consort

Good to see you're still hanging around, Bookie!

Blixa, here's my review of The Courage Consort from Amazon.



Quote:
Fortissimo, February 16, 2002
Reviewer: John Self
I read Michel Faber's latest, The Courage Consort, this morning after giving up on Peter Carey's workmanlike True History of the Kelly Gang. Yes, it's one of those books you can read at a sitting - or, as I was in bed, a lying. It's an ostensibly comic novella about a group of acapella singers - "possibly the seventh most renowned in the world" - called The Courage Consort. The action, such as it is, centres on their stay in a secluded European chateau to rehearse a larynx-bogglingly complex piece of modern choral music called Partitum Mutante. Cue lots of ker-razy Europeans to laugh at (presumably an in-joke as the Highlands-bound Faber is Dutch by birth).

However, as with Faber's last two books, Under the Skin and The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps, the central vein of the story is in the mind of an unhappy woman, this time Catherine Courage, the 47-year-old wife of the founder of the group. The first page finds herself contemplating suicide by jumping out of the window of their apartment, unsure whether four storeys would be enough to kill her. This gives us the fine closing line to the first paragraph: "If she could only drop from a height of a thousand storeys into soft, spongy ground, maybe her body would even bury itself on impact." There's enough like that to dispel any fear that Catherine might be a whingeing Plathette, and Faber manages to keep her sympathetic and likeable throughout.

If retreading the unhappy female territory means he will never suffer Martin Amis's accusations of misogyny, he would do well to his neglect of male characters. In Under the Skin, the men were - literally and figuratively - leering lumps of meat - and in The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps the male was, albeit necessarily, a lantern-jawed hunk with little inner life that we got to see. Here too the men are fairly one-dimensional: from Roger, the unsympathetic husband who constantly asks Catherine if she has "given any more thought to" giving up her anti-depressants, to Julian the pansexual lustbucket; with only Ben, the 20-stone bass, to provide a little light and (ahem) an enormous amount of shade. The story is simple enough, and like the rest of Faber's books, remains in the head despite its apparently slight construction. As comic novels go, it's not that funny (I laughed once) but it's satisfying and affecting and re-readable and what more, I suppose, could one ask for in 120 pages? Just don't let the fact of a quote on the front cover by Brian Eno put you off.
And for completeness, my views on the other two books of his I've read.

Quote:
Faber's first novel Under the Skin was a curious beast indeed, one of those gradual-discovery books about which very little can be said without spoiling it. It concerns a female driver called Isserley who spends her time going around the Scottish Highlands looking for hitch-hikers to pick up - but only if they're young, muscular and male. To go any further would ruin it. The strangest thing about Under the Skin is that as you read the first half the possibilities of what might really be going on expand exponentially until it seems that almost anything could happen - literally or allegorically - but this expectation is crushed by the second half, which failed to live up to expectations and led me simply to keep thinking, Is this it? as the ideas closed down one after another. There was nothing more to it after all. Perhaps it's just a victim of its own success and confounding your expectations to begin with. Nonetheless, the critics seemed to go for it in a big way, to the extent that one would almost have thought Faber was offering monetary bribes - except he's Scottish, heheh...

Despite its failings, Under the Skin was interesting enough to make me want to look out his next book, a novella entitled The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps (which, as titles go, is at least five times better than John Buchan's). This has received some [SIZE=1]ecstatic comments on Amazon, one of which speaks of a bombshell in the very last line. A-ho-ho! We former Iain Banks fans know all about those twists in the very last line! So it was that I steeled myself, and glued the book, against the possibility of reading the last line in advance.

When I did get there, I did a double take. What bombshell? I looked up the review again. Read the line again. And then it dawned on me... Well it was a bombshell of sorts, but it didn't make any sense. Or if it did, then it was a twist as tacked-on and contemptible as the one in Unbreakable. Or was it possible that Faber hadn't meant this to be a twist? Perhaps the success of Under the Skin has raised unreasonable expectations of him. Otherwise, The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps is an interesting read, with a central female character oddly similar to Isserley in Under the Skin: disfigured, detached, not succumbing to the charms of muscular men as she might be expected to... The style is less carefully considered and executed than in Under the Skin, with some sentences which made me wince*, giving the whole thing an air of haste about it. Try Under the Skin first - oh and check out the excellent Canongate website, where you can buy Faber's books at a discount and with much cheaper postage than on Amazon.

(*curious, coming from an author who, according to the Guardian, "would give Conrad a run at writing the perfect sentence." But then, from my point of view, that's damning with faint praise...)
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Old 20th Sep 2005, 18:12   #4
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Default Re: Michel Faber: The Courage Consort

"whingeing Plathette"

:)
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Old 9th Jan 2006, 23:22   #5
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Default Re: Michel Faber: The Courage Consort

At the risk of incurring your wrath, Blixa, I'm changing the title of this thread to Michel Faber, as it already deals with other books of his besides The Courage Consort. After all as Tony Blair tells us, administration is all about making bad decisions. I mean hard.

So spread your thoughts here, knovella, Paul and others.
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Old 7th Feb 2006, 23:03   #6
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I recently finished Under The Skin and although it's not quite on the same level with The Crimson Petal And The White, which was one of my top books of last year, I continue to be impressed with Faber. You'd be hard pressed to find two books by an author that were much different in style or subject matter, and what quickly becomes apparent it that he isn't afraid to take risks and have fun. He manages to mix unique elements and ideas into his writing without bogging down the story or becoming overly verbose. As others have mentioned, it's impossible to discuss Under The Skin in any real depth without giving away vital parts of the story so I'll just say that it's a very engaging read that highlights the author's skill and creativity. I look forward to reading his other work.
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Old 21st Feb 2006, 20:26   #7
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Just finished The Courage Consort and am nearly done with The Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps and I continue to be impressed with the sheer "readability" (for lack of a better word) of Faber.
Quote:
By ten past, everyone was on site and working, distributed like medieval potato harvesters over the subdivided ground. Fourteen living bodies, scratching in the ground for subtle remains of dead ones, peering at gradations in soil colour that could signal the vanished presence of a coffin or a pelvis, winkling pale fragments into the light which could, please God, be teeth.
The skeletons exhumed so far had all been buried facing east, the direction of Jerusalem, to help Judgment Day run more smoothly. Four years from now, when the research would be completed and the bones reburied with the aid of a JCB and vicar to bless them, they'd have to sort out their direction for themselves.
I know his open endings frustrate some readers but I'm always left wanting more and anxious to read the next. He has a very straightforward style and yet is able to inject a real depth and emotion into his characters, especially the women as has been mentioned. Unfortunately, I'm running out of Faber. Some Rain Must Fall is looking fairly lonely on the shelf so hopefully he has something new in the works. Anyone heard anything?
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Old 21st Feb 2006, 20:32   #8
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Default Re: Michel Faber

Crimson Petal is fab. Very readable, exciting and damned raunchy in places.
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Old 21st Feb 2006, 20:52   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kumquat
Crimson Petal is fab. Very readable, exciting and damned raunchy in places.
Yep, that's definitely an accurate description! His best work by far, in my opinion, but if you enjoyed it the others are worth a try and not nearly such a time commitment.
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Old 28th Aug 2006, 17:59   #10
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Default Re: Michel Faber

Those wanting to take a trip back into the world of Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal And The White can do so with the recent release of The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories (Buy this from Amazon). It has seven short tales set before and after the events of the book and feature favourite characters such as William Rackham and Sugar in addition to lesser players from the novel.

Despite these stories, as Faber states in the foreward, there won't be a sequel to The Crimson Petal And The White. The ending stays ambiguous, with Sugar finally getting the privacy she never got in the brothel and at the Rackhams.
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