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The Fahrenheit Twins by Michel Faber
Sunday 18 September 2005
Take his Whitbread-shortlisted novel, Under The Skin. I sat down with a minty-fresh copy one morning while on holiday, and could not move until I had finished the last page. The cover promised something dark, sinister and mysterious, but nothing could have prepared me for what was inside. From the car to the farm (to say any more would spoil it), it just got more shocking.
For Faber's newest offering, he's gone back to the short-story board. The tales in The Fahrenheit Twins are simple, varied and, without exception, leave you begging to know more. Did he know it was dead? Did they keep running? Where was the truck going to go? Was he going to get revenge? And, because it's a Faber, the sense of unfinished business is a good thing, not a disadvantage, and there aren't many authors who would be able to pull it off with such aplomb. These are stories we can pore over in detail to find our own conclusions. Often, in the final lines of a Faber tale, you're suddenly thrown a bit more information, and it's left up to you to decide what happened next.
To brand the tales in one way or another is a bit difficult, but they certainly aren't all happiness and light. There's a touch of Stephen King in "All Black" (one of my favourites); the nastiness of Chuck Palahniuk in "Someone to Kiss it Better"; and Ian McEwan's idea of circumstances snowballing out of control is found in "A Hole With Two Ends" (also a cracker). Faber produces, seemingly without effort, some fantastic characterisation, from cybergeek to dictator, young child to 19th-century industrialist. You can't possibly guess what a story will contain, or which way it will go - with the exception of the give-away picture accompanying the title page of "The Smallness of the Action".
A couple of tales let me down a little. I couldn't quite feel sorry for, or disgusted by, the horrid, unattractive teenager working in a dead-end supermarket in "Less Than Perfect", and, as the only story told in letter form, "Tabitha Warren", about a reclusive writer, was a touch dull. However, these are just two of many, and a special mention must go to "Explaining Coconuts". There is no way I can convey what this story is about, but, suffice to say, I've never thought of a coconut (no metaphor) as a pornographic object. I dread to think where Faber gets his inspiration from, but there's certainly no shortage of it in sight.
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