Faber, Michel 1960-
Faber, Michel 1960-
First name pronounced "mi-shell"; born April 13, 1960, in the Netherlands; immigrated to Australia, c. 1967, then Scotland, 1992; son of Henk (a mechanic and stock clerk in a car parts company) and Elizabeth (a factory worker and homemaker) Faber; first marriage ended in divorce, 1988; married Eva Youren (a high school teacher and writer), 1989; children: Ben, Daniel (stepsons). Education: University of Melbourne, B.A., 1980.
Home—Ross-Shire, Scotland. E-mail—[email protected].
Writer, novelist, editor, and short-story writer. Worked variously in nursing, childcare, phone sales, cleaning, and domestic service.
Macallan/Scotland on Sunday Short Story Prize, 1996, for "Fish"; Neil Gunn Prize, 1997; Ian St. James Short Story Award, 1998; Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award, Saltire Society, 1999, for Some Rain Must Fall; Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; Whitbread First Novel award shortlist, 2000, for Under the Skin.
Some Rain Must Fall (short stories), Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1998, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Under the Skin (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.
The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps (novella), Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.
(Editor) Shorts 4: The Macallan/Scotland on Sunday Short Story Collection, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.
The Crimson Petal and the White (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.
The Courage Consort (novellas), Harcourt (New York, NY), 2004.
The Fahrenheit Twins (short stories), Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2005.
Vanilla Bright Like Eminem (short stories), Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.
The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2006.
Contributor to anthologies, including Snap Shots: Ten Years of the Ian St. James Awards, Angela Royal Publishing, 1999; Crimewave 5: Dark before Dawn, TTA Press, 2001; and The Flamingo Book of New Scottish Writing, 1997. Contributor of short fiction to magazines, including Story, Black Book, and The Printer's Devil. Author's works have been translated into French.
The Crimson Petal and the White has been option for film by Columbia Pictures.
British fiction-writer Michel Faber's stories are as eclectic as his background. He was born in Holland and lived there until his parents moved the family to Australia to begin a new life. Faber later told interviewer Ron Hogan on Beatrice.com that the move caused him an ongoing feeling of being displaced, set apart from those around him. He has integrated these experiences into his novels and short fiction very subtly, often making his main character someone who is on the fringe of society in some way. Beginning with his first novel, Under the Skin, Faber captured the attention of critics and readers and was eventually published in eighteen countries; his second novel, 2002's The Crimson Petal and the White not surprisingly caused a buzz in a publishing industry eager for a repeat sales performance. Faber's first published work, the short-story collection Some Rain Must Fall, also captured critical attention, along with the Saltire Prize.
Faber began writing short stories as a child and during his teens would write the first one hundred pages of a novel, but had difficulty finishing the project. With maturity and discipline, however, he learned how to complete the process and create a full-length piece. Short stories remain a mainstay of his writing, and his first published book, Some Rain Must Fall, includes an unusual mix of fifteen stories. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote: "Faber works from a number of different conceits, one of his favorite being to take an ordinary perspective and reverse it." One story, for example, is told exclusively from the point of view of a woman's hand. Some Rain Must Fall was well received, several critics commenting on its diversity of styles. "From apocalyptic fable to deadpan realism, Faber has a special knack of extracting innocence and hope out of the darkest scenarios without being remotely sentimental," commented Fiona Capp on the Age.com.
Faber's first novel, Under the Skin, was inspired by several things, Faber explained to CA. "At the time that I conceived the book, I was thinking a lot about women's relationship with plastic surgery, and the idea of having to change oneself physically to ‘pass muster.’ Also, I knew I would soon have to leave my home on Tarrel Farm (the place I called Ablach Farm in the book) and wanted to fix its atmosphere in my memory. Also, the story was a good vehicle for some of my perspectives on animal rights, the glories of the natural world, alienation, and potato crisps." In the sex-thriller-style opening to Under the Skin, Faber describes Isserley, an oddly beautiful, mysterious woman with large breasts who spends hours driving an isolated Scottish highway behind the wheel of a Toyota Corolla in search of muscular male hitchhikers. However, the book is not a sexy thriller, a fact that becomes apparent as Faber slowly discloses what happens to these men and, more important, why.
As reviewer Douglas McCabe wrote for New Statesman: "Under the Skin is on the cusp of science fiction, but Faber never allows himself to be caged in genre, and he successfully subverts thriller conventions even as you think he is succumbing to them." Faber skillfully pulls the reader in opposite directions: horror at the fate of the hitchhikers, but sympathy for Isserley, who is so wretchedly lonely and, as it happens, trapped in a life she loathes. Reviewing Under the Skin for the Washington Post Book World, Jonathan Fasman had some reservations about the novel, noting that Faber's prose has a tendency to move from "functional and blandly unobtrusive" to "flat, awkward and opaque." However, the critic added: "Faber is a quirky risk-taker who shows immense promise as a novelist."
Taking a different tack entirely, Faber's short novel The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps tells the story of Siân, a female archaeologist who has had some very troubling life experiences, including the amputation of her leg after an attack in Bosnia. In an effort to move on with her life, she joins an archaeological dig in Whitby Abbey and immerses herself in the history of the place, but cannot escape a recurring nightmare of being stabbed in the neck by a person with large hands. A man enters her life who asks her to examine a piece of parchment paper rolled into a bottle and left to him by his deceased father. The parchment turns out to be the last confession of a man who lived in the eighteenth century. Siân is able to decipher the letter, and as that story unfolds, so does her own.
Though short, the novella packs the suspense and power of a much longer book; in fact, Faber explained to a Bookreporter.com interviewer, The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps came about after the author "was commissioned to write a short story set in Whitby and it grew to 26,000 words—long enough to stand on its own." David Robinson, writing for the Scotsman, concluded: "Instead of Gothic horror, Faber gives us a satisfying subtle and crisply condensed exploration of love, integrity and infatuation—both among those whose bodies were once hauled up Whitby's 199 steps and those who still have similar journeys to make themselves. For a small book, it's surprisingly huge."
The Crimson Petal and the White with a title drawn from a Tennyson poem, drew considerable critical at- tention both in the United States and abroad. Considered Faber's breakthrough novel, the book is a sprawling Victorian epic retooled with a sensibility more at home in the twenty-first century. The main female protagonist is Sugar, a nineteen-year-old prostitute who was first forced into that dubious lifestyle by her mother at age thirteen. Intelligent and literate, Sugar plies her profession in earnest, even while longing for a different way of life. Though she has a reputation for being willing to do anything a client asks, she is no weakling. Her fierce intellect and determined streak of independence allow her to go into situations fully aware, and to leave them intact and still capable of taking care of herself. Sugar bides her time by writing a rage-drenched novel in which her clients all meet gruesome, and perhaps deserved, ends.
When Sugar meets William Rackham, an unwilling heir to a large perfumery business, their lives immediately collide and mesh. Forced by his father to take over a business he doesn't want, married to a sickly and aristocratic woman who might very well be insane, Rackham finds great comfort in Sugar's bed. She proves to be quite astute at business, and offers Rackham workable and profitable suggestions for the perfume business. Determined not to lose her treasured company to any other man, Rackham sets her up in a nice apartment. Soon, he has a better idea, and insinuates Sugar into his own home as his daughter Sophie's governess and tutor. Soon, however, the seemingly perfect situation begins to unravel for both characters, and both must make difficult choices in order to avoid being destroyed completely.
Critical reaction to The Crimson Petal and the White has been largely positive, even enthusiastic. Many noted the exacting and authentic detail that Faber layers throughout the novel. "Faber's prose is an amazingly labile instrument, wry and funny, never pretentious, capable of rendering the muck of a London street and the delicate hummingbird flights of thought with equal ease," observed Lev Grossman in a Time review. Booklist reviewer Joseph M. Egan remarked positively on Faber's "mastery of character, evocative descriptions of Victorian England, and rich dialog," all on constant display in what he characterized as a "remarkable novel." Booklist critic Ilene Cooper noted: "This massive work is startling and absorbing. Readers will not soon forget the richly drawn world into which they have been enticed." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called it a "brilliantly plotted chronicle of the collision between high and low," and noted that as a story, it is "riveting, and absolutely unforgettable." A "marvelous story of erotic love, sin, familial conflicts and class prejudice, this is a deeply entertaining masterwork that will hold readers captive until the final page," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
The Courage Consort is a collection of three novellas. The collection offers "fully drawn characters and arresting premises in three vivid, varied tales," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic. "The Fahrenheit Twins" finds ethereal brother Marko'cain and sister Tainto'lilith, two preadolescent children living in the Arctic with their archaeologist parents, distraught after the death of their mother. They are at loose ends trying to figure out what to do with her body until their father suggests they tie her body to a sled and take her remains into the unforgiving wilderness. The title story finds the five members of the eponymous a cappella singing group in a Belgian chateau, rehearsing for a performance of "Partitum Mutante," a work by eccentric composer Pino Fugazzi. In this context, Catherine Courage, a soprano and wife of the group's director, contemplates suicide to escape her uninspiring life. Her inner troubles intensify when she realizes she is the only one who can hear the eerie crying at night, suggesting that she has somehow come into contact with the local ghost legend. As the story develops, Catherine identifies her emotional turmoils and associated needs, and even as tragedy strikes the avant-garde group and its future seems in danger, it seems as though a heavy shock might be what Catherine and her colleagues need most. "It's a most unusual story, and a brilliant achievement," the Kirkus Reviews critic remarked. The collection also includes a reprint of the story, "The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps." "Faber's literary artistry in all three pieces is consummate," remarked Booklist critic Ray Olson.
The Fahrenheit Twins again presents the story of Marko'cain and Tainto'lilith as they trudge through the frozen wilderness with their dead mother. In other stories, such as "Beyond Pain," a drummer for a heavy metal band misses a show because of illness. Instead, he spends times with his girlfriend's family in a small local village, all the while keenly aware of the contrasts between his lifestyle and that of the village. Still, "what follows is a well-observed portrayal of cultures not so much clashing, but meeting and grumbling, backing off, meeting again and having a pint together. It shows people having to drop their masks and roles, and meeting with unexpected warmth," observed Rosanne Rabinowitz on Laura hird.com. "The Smallness of the Action" concerns a new mother who learns small but abusive ways to control her crying baby. As the story escalates, so do the injuries subtly inflicted on the innocent child, unbeknownst to the oblivious father. In describing the collection, Bookseller reviewer Mike Stoneham remarked, "Eclectic, compelling, full of pace, these stories pull you in and don't relinquish their grasp."
In another collection of stories, Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, Faber "continues to demonstrate the full range of his talents," commented Joanne Wilkinson in Booklist. Residents of the titular homeless shelter in "The Safehouse" are required to wear t-shirts emblazoned with their psychiatric diagnoses and histories. A depressed woman in "The Eyes of the Soul" is convinced to replace the dreary view from her front window with that of a lush garden, piped into her house through a virtual picture. In the title story, a father on vacation with his family unexpectedly experiences what will be the happiest moment of his life. In these stories, "what should be overly sentimental becomes instead profoundly moving," Wilkinson concluded.
Jules Smith, writing on Contemporary Writers, summed up Faber's work in the following way: "Faber is an undeniably clever and manipulative writer, continually seeking to direct (and unsettle) the reader with a hint here and an odd phrase there. He is also skilled in creating a cast of characters and orchestrating them, unfolding plots to gradually reveal clues and details. His books grab the attention, and seldom let go."
Faber told CA: "I don't emulate any writer in particular, I pick up techniques and tangential inspirations from all over the place. John Berger's Ways of Seeing, which is not even a novel but a book of art criticism, has had a big influence on my world view as I express it in my fiction. Avant-garde and electronic music inspires me too. The beauty of the Scottish Highlands, where I live, had a profound effect on my novel Under the Skin. As far as other writers go, I've admired Kurt Vonnegut for his moral scope and compassion. The use of allegory in medieval literature still excites me. Technically, I've learned a lot about the pacing of comic dialogue from a playful little pulp called Every Crook and Nanny, by Evan Hunter. Charles Dickens I've admired and studied closely. The King James Bible is part of my bones.
"Some of my stories are fueled by anger, but others by tenderness, awe, mischief, etc. It would be fair to say that most of my work arises more from imagination than from autobiographical experience, though obviously my travels and the people I meet do enrich the material. I'm totally uninterested in genre boundaries and this is no doubt partly why my work is so varied. My focus with each novel or story is simply to make it as good as I can."
Writing is an integral part of Faber's day. He told CA: "My writing process is as follows: in the morning, I swing my legs out of bed, step into my clothes and my sheepskin boots, walk to the study and sit down at the PC. Then I write until I'm too tired to go on, or until my wife reminds me that there can be more to human existence than typing on a keyboard.
"My primary motivation for writing is the love of language for its own sake, regardless of whether anyone else reads it. I wrote for more than twenty-five years before I started submitting my work. More recently, I've enjoyed the challenge of making unforgettable pictures materialize in people's heads and diverting their thinking onto paths they wouldn't otherwise have travelled."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, November, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 53.
Booklist, April 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Under the Skin, p. 1527: August, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 1885; January 1, 2003, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 792; May 15, 2003, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 1638; September 1, 2004, Ray Olson, review of The Courage Consort, p. 60; July 1, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, p. 31.
Bookseller, August 9, 2002, Benedicte Page, "A Trojan Horse Novel: Michel Faber Describes the Victorian Epic That Took Him 20 Years to Write," review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 29; September 15, 2006, Mike Stoneham, "Reading for Pleasure: Mike Stoneham, a Buyer at Wholesaler Gardners, Was Left Craving for More after Reading The Fahrenheit Twins, by Michel Faber," review of The Fahrenheit Twins, p. 22.
Books in Canada, January, 2003, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 10.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 20, 2001, Lorna Bradbury, review of Under the Skin.
Entertainment Weekly, September 20, 2002, Karen Valby, "Tart Gallery: Dickensian in Scope, Daring in Subject, Michel Faber's Tale of the Best Little Whore in London Is a Sheer Delight," review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 96; December 20, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 134; August 8, 2003, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 81; October 29, 2004, Troy Patterson, review of The Courage Consort, p. 75.
Financial Times, August 25, 2001, James Urquhart, "Bringing out the Dead," p. 4.
Guardian (London, England), April 1, 2000, Fiachra Gibbons, review of Under the Skin, p. 9.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 1059; September 1, 2004, review of The Courage Consort, p. 824; July 1, 2007, review of Vanilla Bright Like Eminem.
Library Journal, September 15, 2002, Joseph M. Eagan, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 88; September 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of The Courage Consort, p. 144; August 1, 2007, Alicia Korenman, review of Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, p. 78.
New Statesman, March 27, 2000, Douglas McCabe, review of Under the Skin, p. 57: February 18, 2002, Vicky Hutchings, "Waiting to be Called," review of The Courage Consort, p. 56; October 14, 2002, Rebecca Abrams, "Novel of the Week," review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 55.
New York, November 1, 2004, Boris Kachka, review of The Courage Consort, p. 79.
New Yorker, December 24, 2007, review of Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, p. 149.
New York Times, September 19, 2002, Janet Maslin, "A Prostitute in the Day of Dickens," review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. E1; October 28, 2002, Sarah Lyall, "A Writer's Tale Is Victorian; His Past, Gothic," profile of Michel Faber, p. 1.
New York Times Book Review, September 15, 2002, James R. Kincaid, "The Nanny Diaries: In Dank Victorian London, a Prostitute Takes Care of a Rich Man's Child," review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 14; December 8, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 61; August 10, 2003, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 24; February 27, 2005, Elizabeth Judd, "Jo-Jo Fries and New Age Dogs," review of The Courage Consort, p. 12; December 23, 2007, Eric Banks, "Ordinary Misfits," review of Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, p. 15.
People, October 21, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 55; December 23, 2002, Galina Espinoza, "From the Depths: To Tell the Tale of a Victorian Prostitute, Michel Faber Tapped into Memories of His Own Tortured Past," profile of Michel Faber, p. 73; December 30, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, July 30, 2001, review of Some Rain Must Fall, p. 62; July 1, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 47; October 7, 2002, Daisy Maryles, "Peddling the Petal," p. 20; August 23, 2004, review of The Courage Consort, p. 35; June 18, 2007, review of Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, p. 33.
San Jose Mercury News, October 1, 2002, Charles Matthews, review of The Crimson Petal and the White.
Scotsman, July 11, 2001, David Robinson, review of The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps.
Spectator, January 29, 2000, Frank Egerton, "Taken for a Ride," p. 45.
Sunday Telegraph (London, England), February 2, 2000, Katie Owen, "The Hitchhiker's Guide."
Time, September 16, 2002, Lev Grossman, "The Lady Is a Tramp: Michel Faber's Bawdy, Beautiful Victorian Novel The Crimson Petal and the White Dusts off Dickens," review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 70; December 30, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 152.
Time International, October 28, 2002, Lev Grossman, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 64.
Times (London, England), July 14, 2001, Michael Arditti, "Both Feet in the Past," p. 18.
Times Literary Supplement, September 27, 2002, "Behind the Lavender Bushes," p. 22; September 16, 2005, "In from the Cold," p. 23.
Tribune Books, December 8, 2002, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 3; August 24, 2003, review of The Crimson Petal and the White, p. 6.
Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2000, review of Under the Skin, p. W8.
Age.com,http://www.theage.com.au/ (March 28, 2000), Fiona Capp, review of Some Rain Must Fall; (June 12, 2000), Cameron Woodhead, "Dark, Lyrical Horror."
Beatrice.com,http://www.beatrice.com/ (August 26, 2001), Ron Hogan, profile of Michel Faber.
BookBrowse,http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (May 22, 2008), interview with Michel Faber.
Booklit,http://www.booklit.com/ (May 22, 2008), review of The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (July 11, 2002), interview with Michel Faber.
Books I Loved.com,http://booksiloved.com/ (May 22, 2008), review of The Crimson Petal and the White.
Contemporary Writers,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (May 22, 2008), Jules Smith, profile of Michel Faber.
CultureKiosque,http://www.culturekiosque.com/ (January 13, 2003), Laurence Grenier, review of The Crimson Petal and the White.
January Magazine,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (May 22, 2008), Diane Leach, "Falling through Ice," review of Vanilla Bright Like Eminem.
Laurahird.com,http://www.laurahird.com/ (May 22, 2008), Rosanne Rabinowitz, review of The Fahrenheit Twins.
Powell's Books,http://www.powells.com/ (May 22, 2008), C.P. Farley, "Victorian Melodrama without the Melodrama," interview with Michel Faber.