The Courage Consort

Michel Faber, whose 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White was so well received, demonstrates once again that he knows how to tell a story--or three. In "The Courage Consort," a classical vocal ensemble rehearses a difficult new work in a secluded Belgian chateau. The focal character is Catherine Courage, a depressed English soprano who sings beautifully even without her Prozac. Already suffering from irrational fears, Catherine is further alarmed by a chilling nocturnal cry that no one else can hear. Meanwhile, tensions escalate between the acidulous tenor, the German contralto, a ridiculous Italian composer, and a Dutch video artist who has designed a bizarre accompaniment to their concert.

"The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps" lead to medieval Whitby Abbey and the archeological dig which scientists are excavating. Since her arrival, one young woman has been plagued with inexorable nightmares of seduction and decapitation, accompanied by searing pain and a lump in her thigh. Then she encounters a handsome medical student, who possesses an eighteenth century bottle containing a scroll that she offers to restore, but what she unravels is an apparent confession of murder. This budding love story mutates into something quite different--a history, a mystery, with a rather delightful ending.

Faber’s final offering is a disturbing bedtime fable for adults. "The Fahrenheit Twins," Tainto’lilith and Marko’cain, live in a sort of Arctic paradise with their parents, who are researching a local aboriginal tribe. The resourceful youngsters are left alone for weeks, and when their mother dies, they must decide what to do with her body. They journey into the unknown with their sled dogs, where sexuality is revealed to them in a painting, as is their abandonment in an even colder world.