Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them.
Thus Michel Faber lures readers into the Victorian saga of The Crimson Petal and the White, a novel that has earned Faber comparisons to Charles Dickens and delivered on the promise of his first, markedly different novel Under the Skin. Petal is an exhaustively researched chronicle of 1870s London as seen through the eyes of a young prostitute whose ambition carries her (and the reader) to higher levels in society. Faber's come-hither approach to writing the book jives with both his characters and his approach to reading. "I use the metaphor of a novel being like a prostitute, promising the reader a good time, promising intimacy and companionship," he says in a publisher's interview. "Ironically, even though you feel at first that you're being strung along by this beguiling voice, you do end up getting everything it promised you. And more, I hope."
Faber seduced readers with a predatory protagonist in the sci-fi-like Under the Skin. He brings his audience in league with Isserley, an otherworldly character who preys on human men in Scotland for their body parts, then sends the fruits of her labor back to her home territory. Faber's potency as a writer lies in his ability to lead the reader into a story with a number of matter-of-fact details, some sticking out more than others -- things don't get completely strange in Under the Skin until Isserley happens to flick a switch in her car and needles emerge from the passenger seat, sedating the hitchhiker she's picked up.
"The more the writer tries to force the reader to regard something as amazing and special, the more suspicious and bored the reader will become," Faber said in an interview with the Barcelona Review in 2002. "The reader needs to feel that the weirdness or the beauty or the horror in a story has an independent reality from what anyone says about it. That’s an illusion, of course: the writer is responsible. But the illusion is essential." Faber succeeds in crafting these illusions, whether they are the stuff of real life or fantasy. As the New York Times noted in its impressed and bemused review of Under the Skin, "His writing is chaste, dryly humorous and resolutely moral. The fantastic is so nicely played against the day-to-day that one feels the strangeness of both..."
It's evident from these two novels and from the short story collection Some Rain Must Fall, which mixes fantastic and humdrum settings, that Faber knows no bounds when it comes to genre or milieu. Like his protagonists, he can take his strengths into foreign territories, succeeding by coercion if necessary.
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The first third of The Crimson Petal and the White was serialized online at the Guardian's web site.
One of Faber's early publisher bios said that "he has worked as a nurse, a pickle-packer, a cleaner, and a guinea pig for medical research."
In 2002, Faber published a novella called The Courage Consort, which has not yet been released in the U.S.
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