The Hundred and Ninety Nine Steps & The Courage Consort


Title:The Hundred and Ninety Nine Steps & The Courage Consort

Writer: Michel Faber

Publishing House:Canongate Books Ltd

Date of Publication:April 1st 2010

Rating: 5 stars

”Within minutes, of course (or was it hours?), her head was disjoined from her neck, and the seagulls were screaming.”

Siân is a student of archeology and has recently joined an archeological dig in Whitby. Whitby is a town where the modern tries to stand side by side to the centuries-old past, steeped in legends and sanctity. Every day, she climbs up the hundred and ninety-nine steps of the legendary Abbey, trying to exorcise her demons in a battle that leaves her sleepless every night and a past that has left deep marks in her body and soul.

Faber uses the foreboding Abbey as a most effective setting for a story that tackles quite a few complex issues. The effects of past traumas, physical and psychological, the will to find a meaning, the desire for discovery, the sanctity of the influence of History in our lives. In haunting prose, Faber weaves a tale of a young woman who is tempted to give in to her demons, struggling to stand her ground against weakness and the will of an idiot who wants to patronise her.

The setting and the depiction of Siân’s complex personality and thoughts are closely connected and the result is powerful. However, you will need every ounce of your patience with the sorrowful existence of Magnus who is the epitome of the manipulative ignorant who knows nothing about anything and wishes to diminish every sense of the importance of History, Remembrance and Religion. The only thing he has on his mind is how to find a woman to get laid. Small wonder his search is futile…We know his type too well…

‘’What would she do if she heard the cry?’’

In The Courage Consort, a special musical ensemble, aiming to bring new composers into focus, is gathered in a villa in Belgium. Battling with the suffocating summer heat and with each other’s fixations, ambitions and mentality, Catherine must find the strength to overcome her suicidal thoughts and the grip of a controlling, holier-than-thou husband. And what exactly is this cry that can be heard each night, coming from the forest?

Faber brilliantly depicts the difficulty and tension that comes with sharing your private space with coworkers from different cultural and social backgrounds, especially when you find yourself in a foreign country, obliged to satisfy an ‘’artist’’ who thinks he is Mozart for the modern audience. Catherine’s uncertainty and kindness, Dagmar’s razor-sharp honesty and intelligence, Julian’s idiocy, Ben’s silence and Roger’s fake notion of expertise create a bomb that can go off at any second while the setting of the villa more than brings to mind the legendary gathering of the greats in a villa in Geneva where Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein.

The two novels may seem independent of each other, at first glance, but the themes that connect them are many. The significance of Music and Architecture, the need to preserve our past through History and offer it as a sacrifice to our contemporary times that consist of ephemeral ‘’wonders’’ of dubious quality. The games our mind plays on us, the need for women to distance themselves from manipulative men and forge a path of their own, free from defining themselves as someone’s wife or girlfriend. 

Set in haunting and haunted locations, Faber showcases his astonishing talent of depicting complex individuals and strained social relationships, influenced by the past and the environment.

‘’You who find this; You who read this – Pray for her, I beg of you!

     Thomas Peirson,

  father and Christian, as best he could be.’’

One Comment

  1. BookerTalk says:

    Both of these sound good. When I saw the cover and discovered that Whitby was used as a setting I suspected we were in for yet another spin off from dracula so I was presently surprised to read they are about far more interesting matters


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