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  1. restored thread #1 15th December 2005, 03:10 PM Stewart Resident Join Date: Dec 2005 Location: Glasgow, UK Posts: 301 The Courage Consort 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.
  2. Siân, an archaeologist working on a dig at Whitby Abbey, is haunted by nightmares where she gets her throat cut. Later she meets a handsome stranger and his dog, and he hands her a manuscript from the 1830s in which a Whitby whaler cuts the throat of his daughter. This strange novella was a satisfying and quick read, though I suspect I am missing many threads and parallels that Faber has put in. It doesn't help that I haven't read any Henry James.
  3. Like Dalton in Road House, I thought this book would have been...bigger. It's barely 200 pages long and double spaced, and I would have thought the story of a newly discovered fifth gospel would have needed a lot more pages. Book synopsis here so I needn't bore you with detail. There's a humorous passage about the author's name being misspelled, no doubt something Michael himself has endured. There's also a great part where Theo reads the Amazon reviews of the book he writes after 'discovering' the original papyrus scrolls. Theologically, I didn't get too much from it. It seems like Jesus was an actual person who existed at the time, but the book didn't really spur me to think deeply about religion or Jesus. It is of course quite possible that I missed a lot of stuff, something I probably did with one of Faber's previous books, The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps.
  4. Stewart doesn't post much these days, but his reviews are too good to be allowed to disappear. It's shame he has a 'common' name and I can't remember what else he read. It makes finding his reviews a chore. Rescued thread The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories Usually when coming to the end of a book of brick-like proportions, it's good that the story is over. Not so, however, with Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, an 835 page blend of sheer enjoyment and frustration. Set in Victorian London and using postmodern techniques, the novel, I would like to think, is one of the best published this century. With the book ending the way it did, it left readers the world over to guess at what happens next. And it would seem that many didn't want to guess: they wanted to know; they wanted closure. So now, to The Apple, a meagre collection of short stories from Faber that, four years later, returns to the world of The Crimson Petal and the White. In the foreword the author refers to letters from fans from all walks of life asking what happened next, only to have their questions subverted. There will be no sequel, Faber states, but he does offer this further set of tales which should shed some light on some of the characters. Unfortunately, it would seem The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories is more of a cashcow between novels for Faber than anything else. As such, it will probably be only of interest to devout fans of the original novel. Two of the stories (Christmas on Silver Street and Chocolate Hearts from the New World) have previously been published, with the remainder written especially for this collection. There are two stories about Miss Sugar, the whore, both of which look at her past. Christmas on Silver Street shows her as a tart with a heart as she introduces Christopher, the son of a prostitute in the brother where they work, to Christmas. The other, The Apple, shows Sugar becoming annoyed by a missionary's treatment of her child, an event that inspires Sugar's later scribblings in The Crimson Petal and the White. Both of these stories are simple snapshots, and twee to boot. They say little for the character of Sugar, or for the collection. Some of the minor characters from The Crimson Petal and the White also muscle in on some of the action. A young Emmeline Curlew (Emmeline Fox in the novel) writes to cotton farmers in America asking them to free their slaves in Chocolate Hearts From The New World, to which, quite by surprise, she receives a selection of confectionary with an accompanying letter in response. Mr Bodley, strangely separated from his lifelong friend, Mr.Ashwell, arrives at a brothel only to be preoccupied by the sight of a fly upon a prostitutes buttocks, which renders him quite impotent, in The Fly, and Its Effect Upon Mr Bodley. Like the Sugar stories, these tales serve only to bring the characters alive one more time; unfortunately, they have very little to say. In Medicine, a portrait is given of William Rackham's life years after the novel ends; here it shows the decline of his business and of the man himself, in addition to his loveless second marriage. While an unsettling end for one of the novel's major characters, there is little substance to be wrought from the tale. Rackham's former employee, Clara, takes centre stage in Clara And The Rat Man. Since leaving Rackham's home, Clara has, like many women in London struggling to make ends meet, fallen into prostitution. One day a strange client offers her a shilling per week to grow one of her finger nails. For what purpose, it's best to read this story as it's one that nicely stands alone from the Crimson Petal canon and has much action and character to it. The best story, however, is also the lengthiest, taking up more than a quarter of the pages: A Mighty Horde Of Women In Very Big Hats, Advancing. Where all the other stories play with events a few years before or after the events of the original novel, this story is set under the reign of a different monarch. Told as the reminiscences of Sophie Rackham's son, it hints at what happened at the end of the novel although doesn't deal so much with such events. Instead, the narrator recalls his mother in her thirties, a suffragette who, during a march, gets nostaligic for her past life. Although it gives as much information as one would need to get an idea of what happened after events in The Crimson Petal and the White, it ends in a similar manner - although this time we are promised more, but given less. The best thing about this collection is, as always, Faber's writing: light, breezy, with never a word out of place. Or an incorrect word in place. He certainly has the measure of his characters, it's clear he is still in touch with their world. But with the novel ending with the call to let go, it feels like Faber should have taken his own advice. The Apple is a collection of well told stories but with little purpose; it's hardly worth the bite.
  5. Isserley drives her red Toyota Corolla up and down the A9 through the Scottish Highlands, looking to pick up hitchhikers, specifically well built male hitchhikers. That's pretty much all I can tell you about the plot of "Under The Skin" without spoiling the surprises within, because Isserley is not who she first appears to be. Since I can't give you a plot synopsis, I'll enthuse instead about the novel's highly original premise and Faber's artful prose which gradually reveals the true nature of Isserley and her situation. The novel combines the best aspects of "The Wasp Factory" and "Animal Farm", by which I mean it is is at the same time a moral fable and a sometimes grisly horror novel. It could have been written by a rural J. G. Ballard. I'd rate this my third 5-star read from Faber, having enjoyed "The Crimson Petal and the White" and "The Courage Consort" last year. These three books are so different from one another they could almost be by different authors, and yet each is brilliant. Like "CP&W", I think some people might find the ending infuriating, but it is a minor flaw. "Under The Skin" is a hugely impressive debut novel, and was nominated for the Whitbread 1st Novel Award in 2000. Wikipedia says it lost to "White Teeth". It must have been a close call.
  6. Rescued Thread chuntzy 19th December 2006, 04:39 PM As I'm not very good at literary criticism I'll make the following brief points about this novel:- (1) that I finished a 800 page novel in two weeks means that I enjoyed it and it was a page turner (2) I liked how the author subverted some of the conventions of Victorian novels and involved the reader in this strategy: just one example (as I expect I mustn't spoil things) - the governess isn't a harridan and uncaring (3) the author obviously did a lot of thorough research into the period (4) I don't think Faber quite knew what to 'do' with Agnes, especially near the end (5) Wondered if Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope et al would have liked to write about sex as graphically as here if they'd had had the chance Vicky 21st December 2006, 12:13 PM Chuntzy, 1)I started reading this book three days ago and as such haven’t had a decent nights sleep until it was finished. It was one of those books that I couldn’t put down even when I knew that it meant going to work the next day after only five hours sleep 2)I also liked the way Faber managed to add in a good blend of characters and didn’t just stand by stereotypes. Although saying that I can’t think of many strong male characters. 3)The research was very thorough and that added to my interest immensely, but then I am a history freak. Incidental details that were thrown in but not overlaboured (ie. how was Sugar to know that only a whore would order extra cream) made this book very engaging. 4)Agnes was a pretty strange figure overall, I’m certainly not sure what I’d have done with her! I think when a character is there to serve a purpose a satisfying conclusion is hard to find, I expect that is why it is left open for interpretation. 5)I’m not a great fan of Dickens and I’ve never read anything written by Trollope (perhaps you can suggest a good place to start) but I can’t imagine Thackeray missing a chance like that, if only to ruffle a few feathers. It would be interesting to see how the structure of novel would have changed had they been as free to write as graphically. Saying that I doubt he’d have focused on prostitutes, it was Dickens who had a strong interest in London’s poorer classes. One of the other things I really enjoyed about this book was the way Faber used post modernism very cleverly to make you feel like a tourist rather than attempt to parade his own existence (especially when compared with something like The French Lieutenants Woman.) He also made me challenge some of my own assumptions about life in the Victorian Period, rather than relying on convention. katrina 21st December 2006, 01:06 PM I'm rereading at the moment but here are my thoughts from the things I can remember from the first read. I think that Dicken's would have written about Prostiutes if he had had the opportunity, they were members of the poor who suffered and it would have made sense for him to focus on them, although his male characters tend to be male. He did in a way bring prostitutes into Oliver Twist with Nancy and her friend whose name escapes me, I've always assumed that they were kind-hearted prostitues. I loved the historical detail and the descriptions of the pub, clothes and streets. I thought Agnes was actually a let down and the most sterotypical thing in the who novel, the crazy, unloved wife - I can't remember what actually happened to her in the end, so I'm assuming it was nothing major and shocking. I liked the way that the reader was refered to as a visitor to this place, a visitor who knew the history of the Victorian period without knowing too much about this hidden part of it, little comments like "Of Jack the Ripper she need have no fear; it's almost fourteen years too early..." and in the opening paragraph when the narrator says that the reader may well think that they know this place well because of other books that the reader will have read, but in fact this place is an alien world. chuntzy 21st December 2006, 01:52 PM Vicky (and Katrina),I'm reassured that it wasn't just me (re Agnes). Regarding Trollope, I must admit I only have read 'Barchester Towers' and that was because some years ago the BBC did an excellent dramatisation and I realised that I might be missing something if I didn't dip my toe in. I really enjoyed the book. Although Dickens did have the interest in the poorer classes I agree that Thackeray might have enjoyed lifting the lid more and with less pathos involved. Lady Lazarus21st December 2006, 08:57 PM I finished the book last night, and can honestly say I loved it! I agree with Vicky that I haven't slept at all well the past two weeks, for lying in bed tryign to get through it! I kept on thinking I'll just read another page, just one more and I couldn't stop! As to whether Dickens would have written a book about prostitutes, I think perhaps he would, as he did seem (to me) to champion the 'underdog' in society. Not sure Dickens would have used the explicit language in the book though! I found the characters and descriptions of the setting really vivid, and could really imagine the sights and smells of the dark alleys where the 'ladies' sold their trade. As to Agnes, I actually quite liked the character! I thought yes perhaps it was a little stereotypical to have a 'mad woman in the attic' character, but I felt it fitted with the story of why William was visiting Sugar in the first place, and didn't make me hate William for it as much as if he'd had a more 'attentive' wife (for want of a better word). I found the treatment of Sophie Rackham quite shocking (in that her parents never spent any time with her), and wonder how much of that really went on in the houses of the well-to-do with a governess to do all of that side of things. Also, the flashbacks to Sugar's childhood with Mrs Castaway were heartbreaking! All in all a fantastic read! P.S. After a bit of Googling, have just found this short interview with Michael Faber about the book. katrina 22nd December 2006, 06:30 PM I reckon that Dicken's would have been more likely to have written a book about Caroline than about Sugar, as Caroline's life is one of downfall from respectable wife to prostitute with no hope of moving up the social scale whereas Sugar is too attractive a figure to catch the readers empathy. Barblue 31st December 2006, 10:12 PM Just finished reading this today. What a story. What a fantastic beginning. What a tantalising end. I have simply got to read The Apple now. This is a great book. The detailed descriptions bring the whole of London to life and since we were reading this for a slant on London, for me this achieved it magnificently. For that reason I want to thank BGO for putting me in contact with this novel. I was particularly intrigued with Faber's writing style here. As has been said already, from the first line of the book the reader gets hooked. Not only that, for such a thick tome, it held my concentration throughout. Perhaps there were times when the pace slackened a little, but as I have said elsewhere, I feel that was in keeping with the times in which this was set and for me it was appropriate. Although some might say that there are some unsavoury details of the life of prostitutes, bodily functions and the day to day drudgery people had to endure, I felt that it was well proportioned within the narrative of the story that was being told and descriptions of time, place and people. In fact I think it was a very well balanced story. My only criticism was that it was so very difficult for me to hold the book as I borrowed the hardback version from the local library. I did manage to read some of it in bed but only once I had found a way of balancing it on my knees megustaleer 4th January 2007, 03:31 PM I'm very impressed by the number of threads/posts about this book. Possibly the best response so far to a BGO Bookclub choice. I haven't been reading the posts as I might want to read the book at some point. I presume it's a good one if the post count is any measure? (But then HP gets a high post count, so maybe not?)
  7. Hmm, not sure where to post review of this event since there are various Michel Faber threads both in The Canongate Read and elsewhere, so I'll just post a link to my review of it. IfI post it in the events section it might get missed by people who mainly peruse the book threads. Jamie Byng and Michel Faber discussed the author-publisher relationship, books, and much else in Edinburgh last night. Anyone who wants to read more about the event can click on the link: http://www.rocksbackpagesblogs.com/?author=20
  8. I said when I first posted about this that some parts of the book probably went over my head. I've just found out that this is a book in the Myths series, something that wasn't obvious in my copy (the Text Publishing version published in Melbourne, Australia). Sure, it is there but hidden away unlike the UK editions. So now I know the book is based on the Prometheus myth I think I might need to read up on that and reread the book.
  9. This is one of the books discussed as part of The Canongate Read so you can read and add to the discussion here.
  10. This is actually a book of short stories. If this is the wrong place for this review, I'm sure it will be put in the right one. What a great writer Michel Faber is. Here is a collection of enigmatic and intriguing short stories, making the reader think about what the words on the page really mean. At the beginning of each story, apart from the title, is a picture or symbol, which is relevant to the story. They too are intriguing and enigmatic. There are 17 stories in all and each one is different. Some cover the mental state of human beings and semingly question what is sanity. Some touch on the subject of parenting, motherhood and parental love. In fact all are concerned in some way or other with the human condition, but not necessarily in a way ordinaryily considered. I think the most erotic and at the same time funniest is Explaining Coconuts. A group of men travel from all round the world to meet periodically at an hotel in Indonesia to listen to a woman explain everything there is to know about growing and trading in coconuts. Sounds innocent enough, and to a certain extent it is, but not when Faber has a hand in the matter. The title story, The Fahrenheit Twins, is the longest story. The tale of a boy and girl set of twins reared on a remote Artic island by parents who are reseraching a local tribe. The twins never see anybody but their parents from whom to gain knowledge and information. What happens when disaster strikes uncovers much about them and their parents lives. A story told so strongly, yet so slowly, it is impossible to stop reading.
  11. katrina 19th December 2006 04:46 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The opening chapter I just thought I would post a thread for people to comment on their thoughts on the opening chapter on TCP&TW. Despite having read this book before, and fairly recently I was still blown away when I read this chapter the last. Here's just a brief example of what I am talking about: Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other srories you've read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether. When I first caught your eye and you decided to come with me, you were probably thinking you would simply arrive and make yourself at home. Now that you're actually here, the air is bitterly cold, and you find yourself being led along in complete darkness, stumbling on uneven ground, recognising notheing. Looking left and right, blinking against an icy wind, you realise you have entered an unknown street of unlit houses full of unknown people. And yet you did not choose me blindly. Certain expectations were aroused. Lets not be coy: you were hoping I would satisfy all the desires you're too shy to name, or at least show you a good time. Now you hesitate, still holding onto me, but tempted to let me go. When you first picked me up, you didn't fully appreciate the size of me, nor did you expect I would grip you so tightly, so fast. Sleet stings your cheeks, sharp little spits of it so cold they feel hot, like fiery cinders in the wind. Your ears brgin to hurt. But you've allowed yourself to be led astray, and it's too late to turn back now. I love the fact that the reader is address directly and the fact that you have choosen to go on this journey into an unknown world is highlighted, that of course is true of all novels but this unique way of starting certainly had me gripped immediately. What did everyone else think? Lady Lazarus 20th December 2006 12:51 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Quote: Originally Posted by katrina I love the fact that the reader is address directly and the fact that you have choosen to go on this journey into an unknown world is highlighted, that of course is true of all novels but this unique way of starting certainly had me gripped immediately. What did everyone else think? I agree, it had me hooked from the start! Most unusual.. I can't think of anything I've read before that's addressed the reader in the same way. It's very effective, as I can't put the damn thing down! I must say that the reader being addressed as 'you' has died off now (I'm 200 pages from the end) but I feel a bit sad about that.. I kind of wanted it to continue (although that would've been totally impractical in the story!). It makes me wonder where I, the reader is supposed to be in regards to the characters, whereas in the beginning I had no doubt I was following them. Perhaps a trick would've been to make the reader into a character in the story somehow? or am I just getting carried away?! katrina 20th December 2006 04:58 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Quote: Originally Posted by Lady Lazarus I agree, it had me hooked from the start! Most unusual.. I can't think of anything I've read before that's addressed the reader in the same way. It's very effective, as I can't put the damn thing down! I must say that the reader being addressed as 'you' has died off now (I'm 200 pages from the end) but I feel a bit sad about that.. I kind of wanted it to continue (although that would've been totally impractical in the story!). It makes me wonder where I, the reader is supposed to be in regards to the characters, whereas in the beginning I had no doubt I was following them. Perhaps a trick would've been to make the reader into a character in the story somehow? or am I just getting carried away?! From having read the book before I think the assumption is that the reader is still following the characers around, I have a feeling, just a feeling, that in the final chapters the reader is addressed again. Lady Lazarus 20th December 2006 06:47 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Quote: Originally Posted by katrina From having read the book before I think the assumption is that the reader is still following the characers around, I have a feeling, just a feeling, that in the final chapters the reader is addressed again. Aah I knew I wouldn't be disappointed! Not long to go for me, am aiming to finish it tonight (if I can get off the computer).... Barblue 23rd December 2006 05:00 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I too loved the way into this book. Being addressed so directly, not about what was happening as part of the story necessarily, but about me as a reader picking up the book in the first place. In fact it was a bit of a shock and I had to reassess my attitude as a reader over those first few paragraphs. But what an introduction, and who could possible resist reading on. Not me. I am only half way through, mainly because I am so busy getting Christmas ready, but when I am doing all those chores the book is running on inside my head because I can't wait to get back to it. All times are GMT. The time now is 04:03 PM.
  12. katrina 31st December 2006 02:10 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The characters Just wondering what people thought of the individual characters, any you absolutely loved or hated? I personally thought Sugar was great and I like her right till the end no matter what she did. Although I found the descriptions of her appearance odd, the picture in my head of her never matched the description - I know that doesn't make sense because we hear so much about how she looks. William on the other hand was likeable at his weakest moments but I was never 100% sure of him, though that maybe down to his using prostitutes. Agnes is a sterotypical mad wife in the attic, although some moments are heartbreaking, I can't imagine no one telling me about a females body though. Mrs Fox - too righteous in places but then very open minded, I was never sure if I liked her or not. Henry, lovely but far too innocent. Sophie, I wanted her to discover herself, lash out, through a tantrum, rather than just accept what happens to her. Lady Lazarus 31st December 2006 07:22 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yes I loved Sugar too, despite her profession, you got the impression that she had had a terrible childhood and was destined for better things. I quite liked Agnes, and felt sorry for her, especially the part when she was doped up on laudanum to keep her out of the way. She wasn't an immediately 'likeable' character like Sugar though, and I can see why other people didn't warm to her. I wasn't sure whether to like or despise the 2 rogueish characters William hung around with (?bodley and Ashwell). Sometimes they came out with really humourous things, but other times (like when they went in the alley with William and the 'ladies', and their voracious appetite for More Sprees!) I really hated them! I agree with Katrina, I did warm to William, despite his treatment of his wife and treatment of women generally. He was quite a likeable man in the book. Mrs Fox I also wasn't sure about, especially in the beginning, but by the end when you saw her in her messy house not even dressed I felt quite sorry for her. Henry I liked too, and wished he'd shown his love for Mrs Fox sooner! And poor little Sophie. I felt so bad that she hadn't really ever got to know her parents. I hope she had a better life with her new governess... Barblue 31st December 2006 09:58 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The characters Faber has created in this novel are, in my opinion, all very strongly written. As the novel begins and ends with Caroline, I feel she is the one that holds it together in many ways. She too had a terribly tragic episode in her life that led her to become a prostitute, but somehow she seems to retain her inner beauty. She is connected so well in the story to Sugar, Henry and eventually William yet somehow she remains outside of them all really. I think Faber uses this character very well to knit them together. I also thought Colonel Leek was a great character. The way he trots out all those facts, seems to be living on another planet and yet is very aware of everything; he is very sharply written. The servants, given so much detailed description, came to life too. In fact the novel is so tightly packed with detail that everything seemed full and rounded. My personal dislike was Clara; despite Agnes thinking she was her 'friend' it was always apparent that she was nothing of the kind. The deterioration in the physical and mental state of Emmeline Fox was exceedingly well written for me. Her father's visit showed the early signs of depressive illness, yet the father is so wound up with Agnes mental state he fails to recognise the signs of his daughter's deterioration. Then the visit of William to her house graphically illustrated her mental decline. Waking her in the middle of the afternoon, stumbling round her overfilled and dirty house, and her state of undress; all wonderfully illustrating her depressive state, which had come about so gradually following Henry's death and was so at odds with her previously full charitable life. I actually got very annoyed with Henry. Totally indecisive, naive to the enth degree and living a dream existence; but I too was sad because he was unable to express himself not only to Emmeline Fox, but to his own family too. Yet again, a beautifully written and rounded character. Faber does a great job with all his characters. There are so many in this novel, and yet I feel I have met and know them all, from Henry Calder Rackham right down to the employees in the soap factory and young Christopher. Grammath 2nd January 2007 01:42 PM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As a book with, let's face it, a fairly slight plot, strong characterisation and wonderful writing were what made this one of my favourite reads of 2006. I especially liked the minor and more comic characters like Colonel Leek and Bodley and Ashwell, all creations worthy of Dickens, the master at creating that kind of character.
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