"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die."
It took me until halfway through the second novella of three to understand the purpose of this collection. As I read the first title novella, I felt like I was missing something that was right in front of me. When the story concluded, I felt cheated. I reviewed the pages to see if there was something that I didn't catch the first time, but I found nothing.
By the second novella, titled The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps, I was missing my first Faber read and wishing that the tone would change to something I knew that I enjoyed. It took a completely unrelated meet-up with a friend to actually understand the purpose of the collection. She told me that "courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die". When I heard this, I instantly thought of the main characters within both novellas, Catherine and Sian. Both of these women were living in fear of living life. Catherine, although a talented musician, needed to have her life completely controlled by her husband in order to survive. Sian found herself closing in on herself in an effort to stop her past from ever happening again. Both of these women are barely living, and in both cases it takes the realization of fear and the acceptance of change to truly begin living. Without an acceptance of the fear they cannot even begin to overcome it. The conclusions of both of these novellas finally revealed themselves to me through this understanding, and I was able to truly enjoy what I had read.
The third novella, The Fahrenheit Twins, was slightly different than the first two, but ultimately carried the same message on the topic of courage. The child protagonists of the novel live in solitude with their mother, and as a result of their upbringing they believe everything that they see to be perfect. They do not understand the outside world because they have never been forced to experience it. For these twins, they must first experience the fear and the unhappiness of life and the outside world in order to exemplify courage in the concluding pages. While the women in the other novellas have lived through the pain of life and eventually find the ways to overcome it, these children go through the realization of true life right before our eyes. They then enter the same phase as the previous women before they are able to move past their fear and demonstrate courage.
All in all, I give this collection a 3/5. I enjoyed it as soon as I fully understood the purpose of the three stories. Just as in his last text, I was able to find Faber's dark voice. The mystery that he envelops within his words creates the desire to carry on through the text, even if nothing seems to be happening.