Michel Faber: Background information when reading The Book of Strange New Things

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The Book of Strange New Things

A Novel

by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber X
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 480 pages
    Jun 2015, 480 pages

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Michel Faber

This article relates to The Book of Strange New Things

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Michel FaberMichel Faber is considered Dutch in the Netherlands, which is where he was born; Australian in Australia, because he lived there for so long; and Scottish in Scotland, where he emigrated with his wife and family in 2003. To say this award-winning writer is revered is an understatement.

Born in 1960 in The Hague, Faber studied Dutch, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and English Language at Melbourne University. After graduating in 1980 he took various jobs such as a cleaner, pickle packer and guinea pig for medical research until he decided to train as a nurse in Sydney. He practiced nursing until 1993 when he and his family moved to Scotland. It was there that his wife encouraged him to submit his writing – a practice that he had engaged in since he was about fourteen years old – to short story competitions. He began winning them and Canongate Publishing took notice and offered to publish his works. His first book was published in 1998 and is a collection of short stories titled Some Rain Must Fall. Faber's first novel was Under the Skin, which was published in 2000.

Some Rain Must FallFaber's works are not easy to categorize. Part science fiction, part thriller and part other genres (depending on the specific book), he writes with such subtlety but also depth that he has garnered many awards and much recognition. Under the Skin, for example, was published in over 16 languages and was short-listed for the Whitbread First Novel Award (now called the Costa First Novel Award.) Perhaps Faber's most well known work is his 850-page 2002 novel, The Crimson Petal and the White. Set in 1870s London, very Victorian in breadth and depth, and primarily about a prostitute named Sugar, this book took Faber twenty years to write and was said to be influenced by his love of Charles Dickens' prose and George Eliot's story structure. In fact Faber said of Dickens: "Every critic creates their own Dickens – fearless reformer, craven reactionary, anarchic force of nature, cosy sentimentalist, fierce intellect, self-educated bore, social realist, grand tragedian, slapstick comedian, etc. My own writing thrives on the plurality of conceptions of the world, and examining the way Dickens affects people of different temperaments and value systems is as good a way as any to confront and savour this plurality."Under the Skin

The Crimson Petal and WhiteThe Crimson Petal does this exactly: "savors this plurality"; and was, of course, very much Faber's own creation, combining a sort of post-modern lens on feminism, post-Freudian sexual pathology and post-Marxist class examination. While it is his most popular work to date, Faber refuses to write a sequel because he does not want to be easily labeled as one kind of writer.

Perhaps because of his skills and history a a nurse, Faber traveled to the Ukraine in 2004 with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as part of their Authors on the Frontline project, where he, along with 13 other writers, witnessed the emergency medical care that MSF offers around the world. He then wrote an article about his experience – which was specifically centered around HIV care in the Ukraine – for The Sunday Times Magazine in 2005.

To date, Faber has written six novels, five short-story collections, and one work of non-fiction. For three years he reviewed books for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, and had a column in The Sunday Herald called "Image Conscious" in which he analyzed photographs. He now reviews books for The Guardian.

Finally, although Faber is wide and wild in his scope of theme, structure and genre, he wants, in the end, to connect with his readers. He said in an interview: "Trust is absolutely precious, and its betrayal horrifies me. I do want readers to trust me. And yet I don't want to offer them a safe, predictable ride. The literary scene seems to be divided between 'trustworthy' authors who give their fans a Big Mac that's totally unchallenging, and more ambitious authors who treat their readers with high-handed indifference. I want to earn the reader's trust while remaining unpredictable. I take the reader to some dark and emotionally uncomfortable places but never just for the sake of it. And I do care about how you're feeling on your journey."

Image of Michel Faber, courtesy of Canongate TV

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Book of Strange New Things. It originally ran in October 2014 and has been updated for the June 2015 paperback edition.

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