The Courage Consort

The Courage Consort

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by Michel Faber

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With his elegant prose and perceptive imagination, the bestselling author of The Crimson Petal and the White creates a unique, self-contained world, where the perennial human drama plays out in all its passion and ambiguity. In these acclaimed novellas, Michel Faber takes on the interior world of inventively crafted characters. "The Courage Consort" tells of an a

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With his elegant prose and perceptive imagination, the bestselling author of The Crimson Petal and the White creates a unique, self-contained world, where the perennial human drama plays out in all its passion and ambiguity. In these acclaimed novellas, Michel Faber takes on the interior world of inventively crafted characters. "The Courage Consort" tells of an a capella vocal ensemble sequestered in a Belgian chateau to rehearse a monstrously complicated new piece. But competing artistic temperaments and sexual needs create as much discordance as the avant-garde music. In "The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps," a lonely woman joins an archaeological dig at Whitby Abbey and unearths a mystery involving a long-hidden murder. In "The Fahrenheit Twins," strange children, identical in all but gender and left alone at the icy zenith of the world by their anthropologist parents, create their own ritual civilization.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Exotic and willfully unpredictable . . . Taken together, the stories have an unusually wide range. Mr. Faber finds odd ways to fuse brittle civility, gallows humor and a sense of real peril."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"The evocative language and intriguing glimpses of unfamiliar worlds that dazzled readers of The Crimson Petal and the White are here in abundance."—Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times

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. Si n, in "The 199 Steps," is working on an archeological dig in England when she encounters Mack, a gorgeous fitness buff. As Si n and Mack try to decipher the clues to a 1788 murder, Si n'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. Agent, Jamie Byng. (Nov. 4) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Following up his popular The Crimson Petal and the White, Faber offers three novellas each as fully developed as a large-scale work. In the title story, a British-based vocal group gathers at a chateau in Belgium to rehearse a particularly difficult contemporary piece. Little tensions make themselves evident as group director Roger Courage blithely steamrolls everyone in sight. In the end, real tragedy befalls the gentle-as-a-lamb bass, and glorious music, which had been pulling the group apart, suddenly reunites them. In "The Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps," Si n, who works as an archaeologist at the Whitby Abbey dig, helps a callow young man recover a manuscript sealed in a glass bottle. Describing what seems to be a father's chilling murder of his daughter, the manuscript delivers a powerful and surprising twist at the end that redeems Si n's moral arguments throughout. "The Fahrenheit Twins" takes place in a world of its own, telling the chilling tale of siblings raised in the Far North by oblivious parents. Each of these breathtaking gems is astonishingly assured. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/04, and "Fall Editors' Picks," p. 40-44. Ed.] Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fully drawn characters and arresting premises in three vivid, varied tales, courtesy of the Dutch-born Scottish author best known for his Victorian historical The Crimson Petal and the White (2002). "The Fahrenheit Twins" is a modern (perhaps futuristic) fairy tale in which the sibling offspring of anthropological researchers on an Arctic archipelago grow up benignly neglected and ignored by their respective parents. The death of their mother plunges the children (Tainto'lilith and her brother Marko'cain) into a "ritual" burial voyage that's also an odyssey of discovery and shedding of illusions about adults and about their own relationship to the natural world they labor to quantify and understand. "The Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps" focuses on Sian, a 30-ish archaeological conservator working on a dig at an abbey graveyard in the English seaside village of Whitby. Burdened by grievous injuries sustained in war-torn Bosnia and by a recurring "dream of being first seduced, then murdered," Sian achieves a paradoxical understanding of her limitations and her potential through an unresolved flirtation with a handsome young doctor and her deciphering of an 18th-century "scroll" whose "confession" starkly illustrates her own world's distance from a bygone one sustained by social convention and religious faith. This beautifully plotted story displays strengths even more impressively evident in the title novella, the story of a labor undertaken by "the seventh most-renowned serious vocal ensemble in the world." Ensconced in a Belgian chateau, the five members of the eponymous a cappella consort rehearse eccentric postmodernist composer Pino Fugazza's exasperatingly intricate "Partitum Mutante," aportentous musical allegory of (among other things) the birthing process. Faber's elegant tale deftly traces relationships among the embattled singers, particularly the consort director's wife, soprano Catherine Courage, as the "Partitum" and her surroundings expose her own emotional divisions and needs. It's a most unusual story, and a brilliant achievement. Faber marches on, establishing himself as one of the most versatile fiction writers working today.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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3 BKS IN 1
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Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.55(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Courage Consort

To all those who sing lustily and with good courage, and to all who only wish they could

ON THE DAY THE GOOD NEWS arrived, Catherine spent her first few waking hours toying with the idea of jumping out the window of her apartment. Toying was perhaps too mild a word; she actually opened the window and sat on the sill, wondering if four storeys was enough to make death certain. She didn't fancy the prospect of quadriplegia, as she hated hospitals, with their peculiar synthesis of fuss and boredom. Straight to the grave was best. 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.

'Good news, Kate,' said her husband, not raising his voice though he was hidden away in the study, reading the day's mail.

'Oh yes?' she said, pressing one hand against the folds of her dressing gown to stop the chill wind blowing into the space between her breasts.

'The fortnight's rehearsal in Martinekerke's come through.'

Catherine was looking down at the ground far below. Half a dozen brightly dressed children were loitering around in the car park, and she wondered why they weren't at school. Then she wondered what effect it would have on them to see a woman falling, apparently from the sky, and bursting like a big fruit right before their eyes.

At the thought of that, she felt a trickle of mysterious natural chemical entering her system, an injection of something more effective than her antidepressants.

'Is . . . is it a school holiday, darling?' she called to Roger, slipping off the sill back onto the carpet. The Berber plush felt hot against her frigid bare feet, as if it had just come out of a tumble dryer. Taking a couple of steps, she found she was numb from waist to knee.

'School holiday? I don't know,' her husband replied, with an edge of exasperation that did not lose its sharpness as it passed through the walls. 'July the sixth through to the twentieth.'

Catherine hobbled to the study, running her fingers through her tangled hair.

'No, no,' she said, poking her head round the door. 'Today. Is today a school holiday?'

Roger, seated at his desk as usual, looked up from the letter he was holding in his hands. His reading glasses sat on the end of his nose, and he peered forbearingly over them. His PC's digital stomach emitted a discreet nirp.

'I wouldn't have the foggiest,' he said. At fifty-two years old, a silver-haired veteran of a marriage that had remained carefully childless for three decades, he obviously felt he'd earned the right to be hazy on such details. 'Why?'

Already forgetting, she shrugged. Her dressing gown slipped off her naked shoulder, prompting one of his eyebrows to rise. At the same moment, she noticed he wasn't in pyjamas any longer, but fully dressed and handsomely groomed. Hitching her gown back up, she strained to recall how she and Roger had managed to start the day on such unequal footing. Had they got up together this morning? Had they even slept together, or was it one of those nights when she curled up in the guest bedroom, listening to the muted plainsong of his CDs through the wall, waiting for silence? She couldn't remember; the days were a chaos in her brain. Last night was already long ago.

Smiling gamely, she scanned his desk for his favourite mug and couldn't spot it.

'I'll put the kettle on, shall I?' she offered.

He produced his mug of hot coffee out of nowhere.

'Some lunch, perhaps,' he said.

Determined to carry on as normal, Roger picked up the telephone and dialled the number of Julian Hind.

Julian's answering machine came on, and his penetrating tenor sang: 'Be-elzebub has a devil put aside for me-e-e . . . for me-e-e . . . for meeeeeeee!'-the pitch rising show-offishly to soprano without any loss of volume. Roger had learned by now to hold the telephone receiver away from his ear until the singing stopped.

'Hello,' said the voice then, 'Julian Hind here. If you have a devil put aside for me, or anything else for that matter, do leave a message after the tone.'

Roger left the message, knowing that Julian was probably hovering near the phone, his floppy-fringed head cocked to one side, listening.

Next, Roger dialled Dagmar's number. It rang for a long time before she responded, making Roger wonder whether she'd gone AWOL again, mountain climbing. Surely she'd have given that a rest, though, in the circumstances!

'Yes?' she replied at last, her German accent saturating even this small word. She didn't sound in the mood for chat.

'Hello, it's Roger,' he said.

'Roger who?' There was a hornlike sonority to the vowels, even on the telephone.

'Roger Courage.'

'Oh, hallo,' she said. The words were indistinct amid sudden whuffling noises; evidently she'd just clamped the receiver between jaw and shoulder. 'I was just talking to a Roger. He was trying to sell me some thermal climbing gear for about a million pounds. You didn't sound like him.'

'Indeed I hope not,' said Roger, as the nonsense prattle of Dagmar's baby began to google in his ear. 'This is to do with the fortnight in Martinekerke.'

'Let me guess,' said Dagmar, with the breezily scornful mistrust of the State-any State-that came to her so readily. 'They are telling us blah-blah, funding cuts, current climate, regrets . . .'

'Well, no, actually: it's going ahead.'

'Oh.' She sounded almost disappointed. 'Excellent.' Then, before she hung up: 'We don't have to travel together, do we?'

After a sip of coffee, Roger rang Benjamin Lamb.

'Ben Lamb,' boomed the big man himself.

'Hello, Ben. It's Roger here. The fortnight in Martinekerke is going ahead.'

'Good. Sixth of July to twentieth, yes?'



'Good . . . Well, see you at the terminal, then.'

'Good. 'Bye.'

Roger replaced the receiver and leaned back in his swivel chair. The score of Pino Fugazza's Partitum Mutante, which, before the calls, had been glowing on his PC monitor in all its devilish complexity, had now been replaced by a screen saver. A coloured sphere was ricocheting through the darkness of space, exploding into brilliant fragments, then reassembling in a different hue, over and over again.

Roger nudged the mouse with one of his long, strong fingers. Pino Fugazza's intricate grid of notes jumped out of the blackness, illuminating the screen. The cursor was where Roger had left it, hesitating under something he wasn't convinced was humanly possible to sing.

'Soup is served,' said Catherine, entering the room with an earthenware bowl steaming between her hands. She placed it on his desk, well away from the keyboard as she'd been taught. He watched her as she was bending over; she'd put a T-shirt on underneath her dressing gown.

'Thanks,' he said. 'Any French rolls left?'

She grinned awkwardly, tucking a lock of her greying hair behind one ear.

'I just tried to freshen them up a bit in the microwave. I don't know what went wrong. Their molecular structure seems to have changed completely.'

He sighed, stirring the soup with the spoon.

'Five to ten seconds is all they ever need,' he reminded her.

'Mm,' she said, her attention already wandering outside the window over his shoulder. Meticulous though she could be with musical tempos, she was having a lot of trouble lately, in so-called ordinary life, telling the difference between ten seconds and ten years.

'I do hope this château is a cheerful place,' she murmured as he began to eat. 'It would have to be, wouldn't it? For people in our position to bother going there?'

Roger grunted encouragingly, his face slightly eerie in the glow of the monitor through the haze of soup steam.

Roger Courage's Courage Consort were, arguably, the seventh-most-renowned serious vocal ensemble in the world. Certainly they were more uncompromising than some of the more famous groups: they'd never sunk so low as to chant Renaissance accompaniment to New Age saxophone players, or to warble Lennon/McCartney chestnuts at the Proms.

A little-known fact was that, of all the purely vocal ensembles in the world, the Courage Consort had the highest proportion of contemporary pieces in their repertoire. Whereas others might cruise along on a diet of antique favourites and the occasional foray into the twentieth century, the Courage Consort were always open to a challenge from the avant-garde. No one had performed Stockhausen's Stimmung as often as they (four times in Munich, twice in Birmingham, and once, memorably, in Reykjavik), and they always welcomed invitations to tackle new works by up-and-coming composers. They could confidently claim to be friends of the younger generation-indeed, two of their members were under forty, Dagmar Belotte being only twenty-seven. Fearlessly forward-looking, they were already signed up for the Barcelona Festival in 2005, to sing a pugnaciously postmillennial work called 2K+5 by the enfant terrible of Spanish vocal music, Paco Barrios.

And now, they had been granted two weeks' rehearsal time in an eighteenth-century château in rural Belgium, to prepare the unleashing of Pino Fugazza's fearsome Partitum Mutante onto an unsuspecting world.

Copyright © 2004 Michel Faber

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Courage Consort 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
These are three powerful, beautifully written novellas. Faber has a keen and penetrating understanding of his characters, as anyone who read his previously published novel THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE knows. His plots and settings are fascinating (a modern-day Belgian chateau, an English seaside archaological dig, etc...), and his characters are deep and varied. The Courage Consort, the title story, was the strongest of the three novellas, and also the most moving. A modern-day acapella group retires to a secluded Belgian chateau to rehearse a very complicated piece for an upcoming music festival. The interplay between the groups' varied personalities climaxes at a tragedy. The beauty of the story's final pages draws them back together.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago