The Fahrenheit Twins, by Michel Faber<br></br> The Last Book You Read, by Ewan Morrison

Tales of inner space and cyberspace
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The Independent Culture

Interior monologues and letters are interspersed with third-person narration. The landscapes are sometimes exotic: the grimly farcical account of a conference speaker's party trick, a lecture on coconut power, is set in Indonesia; a woman doctor is kidnapped to treat a dictator's cancer in an unnamed land that recalls Latin America. In the enigmatic title story, twins face the dilemma of disposing of a loved person's body "at the icy zenith of the world". More often, the stories unfold in familiar places with threatening corners: urban Scotland or small-town England, as in "Flesh Remains Flesh'", one of the creepiest and best stories, about a 19th-century tannery owner obsessed with preservation.

Creepiness, sometimes verging on the supernatural, figures most often as a subtle feature of daily life, unease within ourselves. Stronger on atmosphere than plot, these stories are united by this pervasive sense of unnamed mystery. Faber's delicate style rarely changes, despite his imaginative curiosity; menace is occasionally replaced by mere control.

Chilling at best, Faber can also veer from the ineffable to the portentous. He must, however, be praised for intercepting the art of the story from worthy realists and replacing it firmly in its original terrain of the uncanny and the fantastic.

The stories in Ewan Morrison's first collection are closely linked: their major preoccupations are sexual need, solitude and despair, their setting the streets and bars of our own times and, even more often, cyberspace - the real and virtual worlds in which strangers seduce (or fail to seduce) each other with invented confessions and autobiographies.

As in Faber's stories, the protagonists may be male or female; their perspectives are handled with equal ease. They are heterosexual, bisexual or undecided; several are held back by memories of loss or betrayal but continue to search for the ideal "fuck buddy'". The promiscuity is as often in minds as actions. Several are frustrated fantasists, for whom the internet replaces the page and the unknown other of electronic communications replaces the reader.

Whereas Faber's versatility is a question of subject matter, Morrison excels in voice and form. Though he favours the monologue, some stories are told from three or four perspectives. Many manage to encapsulate entire lives and trajectories in the span of a few pages. His art can be seen at its finest in "Adagio", in which the protagonist, whose sexual anxieties are temporarily cured by another man, is driven from heterosexual experiment to near-suicide when he loses his lover. The fragility and grief are in effective contrast to the bravado and true grit of Morrison's customary narrative voice.

Aamer Hussein's collection of stories, 'This Other Salt', has been reissued by Saqi

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