In The Courage Consort, Michel Faber's latest literary offering, readers are drawn into three very different worlds with one prevailing theme: the abject loneliness that often marks the human condition. With these novellas, Faber shows a particular gift for exposing the raw emotions so uncomfortably familiar to us all. The title story (which is also the strongest) introduces the reader to a British vocal group spending two weeks in a secluded Belgian manor as they labor over a particularly complex piece. Although they all sing as one, each of them is emotionally isolated from the other—particularly married couple Roger and Catherine Courage. As the fortnight unfolds, members of the motley ensemble struggle to relate, both personally and professionally. Then they are faced with a sudden tragedy that threatens their identity as a whole.
In "The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps," Sian, a melancholy woman disabled in a car accident, joins an archeological dig at Whitby Abbey. There she begins to uncover the details of a long-ago murder, while also unearthing some of her own buried emotions, discovering that the past can link to the present in the most unexpected of ways.
"The Fahrenheit Twins" is the book's most bizarre tale. Its main characters are Tainto'lilith and Marko'cain, young twins living in a faraway arctic land with their distant and frequently absent parents. Self-sufficient and completely cut off from the world, these children have created their own charmed universe. When their mother suddenly dies, reality pierces their idyllic existence, forcing them to realize for the first time how truly alone they are.
Based in Scotland, Faber has won several awards for his novels and short stories, including the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Neil Gunn Prize. His dialogue drips with British witticisms, and his prose can seem rather dry at first. But as his stories unfold, his work becomes increasingly poetic. Haunting, intimate and quietly sad, these tales should stay with readers for a long time.
Rebecca Krasney Stropoli writes from New York City.