No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, April 30, 2006

#39: The Courage Consort -- Michael Faber

This is a quick read but a lasting one. The Courage Consort is a five-piece vocal ensemble, specialising in avant-garde music: Roger Courage, the founder, his wife Catherine, mezzo Dagmar (German, twenty-something, will illegitimate baby), Ben Lamb (bass), and Julian (tenor, waspish). They're being given two weeks in a Belgian chateau to rehearse their next performance, the fiendishly difficult Partitum Mutante, by slimy Euro-composer Fugazza.

Roger and Catherine's marriage is not a happy one, though the lack of happiness is not to blame for Catherine's depression. Catherine, who forgets to pack her anti-depressants, who drifts off to sleep contemplating -- no, idly wondering about the practicalities of -- suicide; who hears voices, cries, in the forest that no one else can hear. Roger scarcely hears her. Beside the others, Catherine seems colourless and silent, but the focus of the novella remains on her throughout. I doubt it's coincidence that she carries the long, high final note in Partitum Mutante.

Something happens to, or within, Catherine in the forest one night, something that's never described or even alluded to. Something's changed, and there is only the slightest hint of it before a choice she might have made is permanently denied. But Catherine is changed.

The more I think about The Courage Consort, the more I suspect it's a study of the ensemble and how they work together: not only in the obvious sense of making music, or the secondary layer of rubbing each other the wrong way, but in how they cope with intrusions (the cleaning lady, Fugazza, etc) and, eventually, with crisis.

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