{d7a882d5-a67c-465a-a0ad-c0c5a1c862f9}Img400By comparison with the range and ambition of American short fiction, contemporary British short story writing can seem rather parochial, hemmed in by formal constraints and an allegiance to dreary realism.

Not so the work of Michel Faber, whose short stories, like his novels, are unpredictable, wildly inventive and impossible to categorise.  Faber’s background is truly international – born in Holland, he was brought up in Australia before settling in the Scottish Highlands, where he has since been effectively adopted as a ‘Scottish’ writer. Best known for his 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White, Faber is a versatile stylist with a slightly detached quality to his writing which lends it a filmic sweep.  While his stories share some of the imaginative daring of his US contemporaries, the sensibility at work feels singularly European. No American could write like this.

Some Rain Must Fall was published two years before Faber’s electrifyingly strange debut novel Under The Skin, which in 2013 provided the basis for Jonathan Glazer’s disturbing and hypnotic film.

One of the hallmarks of Faber’s writing is his ability to illuminate the ordinary, imbuing the stuff of everyday existence with a glowing lucidity. Reading Faber we often feel as if – like the alien protagonist of his debut novel – we have entered a new world.

Some Rain Must Fall is full of such moments. In ‘The Red Cement Truck’, the victim of a domestic robbery lies dying of a gunshot wound. As she listens to the intruder rifling through her bedroom, a cement truck parks in front of her house. Faber describes the view from her window through the woman’s heightened senses: “It revolved slowly, glistening with raindrops. It was easily the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.”

The collection also exhibits Faber’s flair for surreal and unnerving juxtaposition, often achieved by introducing elements of horror and fantasy to otherwise familiar settings. In ‘Fish’, a mother and daughter fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic Britain in which sealife has somehow evolved to leave the oceans behind and swim through the air. Faber’s prose crackles with uncanny images, as the crumbling streets of British cities become hunting grounds for roaming sharks, barracudas and manta rays.

Faber’s worldview is black with gallows humour.  In ‘A Case of Vertigo’, a discredited nun attempts to maintain her sense of spiritual mission by keeping vigil at a popular suicide spot.  In ‘Toy Story’, God is a lonely child and the Earth a bauble retrieved from around the back of an abandoned universe. Hanging his new toy from his bedroom light fixture, he strains his ears to catch the cries of souls in torment, but can do nothing.

But there is also a strong thread of compassion in evidence, particularly in those stories featuring female protagonists, for whom Faber seems to feel a special empathy. The title story vividly evokes the interior life of a female supply teacher who specialises in dealing with emotionally traumatised school children, while in ‘Nina’s Hand’, Faber draws on his own experience of working causal jobs to portray the numbing routine of a Scottish factory worker. In a typical piece of bravado writing, Faber tells the story entirely from the point of view of the hand that does the work, brilliantly imbuing it with its own subjectivity.

Other stories tackle gender themes head on. ‘Accountability’ and ‘Somewhere Warm and Comfortable’ each deal in very different ways with unwanted pregnancy, while ‘Ms Fatte and Ms Thinne’ is a grotesque tragicomic satire about two women who descend into polar extremes of anorexia and obesity. The story plunges into a sort of quasi-feminist body horror, brought to life with deliciously grisly turns of phrase – the emaciated Ms Thinne is transformed into “a startling bird of prey”, while the once glamorous Ms Fatte finds her ears, “swelling up into little puddings.”

As with all the best exponents of short form fiction, Faber’s stories leak into your subconscious, leaving you itching with images you can’t shake off.

Leave a comment