Michel Faber

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Michel Faber
Michel Faber at HeadRead festival, Estonia, in 2019
Michel Faber at HeadRead festival, Estonia, in 2019
Born (1960-04-13) 13 April 1960 (age 63)
The Hague, Netherlands
OccupationNovelist, poet, journalist
CitizenshipNaturalized British (since 1993)[citation needed]
EducationUniversity of Melbourne
GenrePoetry, fiction
Notable worksThe Crimson Petal and the White, Under the Skin, The Book of Strange New Things
PartnerLouisa Young

Michel Faber (born 13 April 1960) is a Dutch-born writer of English-language fiction, including his 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White. His latest book is a novel for young adults, D: A Tale of Two Worlds, published in 2020. His next book, Listen, a non-fiction work about music, is due in 2023.


Faber was born in The Hague, Netherlands. He and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1967. He attended primary and secondary school in the Melbourne suburbs of Boronia and Bayswater, then attended the University of Melbourne, studying Dutch, Philosophy, Rhetoric, English Language (a course involving translation and criticism of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English texts) and English Literature. He graduated in 1980. He worked as a cleaner and at various other casual jobs, before training as a nurse at Marrickville and Western Suburbs hospitals in Sydney. He nursed until the mid-1990s. In 1993 he, his second wife and family emigrated to Scotland. Faber's second wife Eva died of cancer in July 2014 and he published a poetry collection, Undying, about this event in 2016. A biography of Faber by Rodger Glass, Michel Faber: The Writer and his Work, is due to be published in 2023 (Liverpool University Press).


In Scotland, Faber is considered a Scottish author, or at least "Scottish by formation" (the term defining eligibility to enter the Macallan Short Story Competition, which Faber won in 1996).[1] Most of Faber's literary prizes, like The Neil Gunn Prize, The Macallan Prize and The Saltire First Book of the Year Award, were won in Scotland, he lived in Scotland, and his works are published by a Scottish-based publisher. In Australia, Faber is considered an Australian, because of his long residence there, because almost all of his schooling was completed there, and because some of his short stories are set in Australia.[2]



Faber wrote seriously from the age of fourteen, but did not submit his manuscripts for publication. Many of the short stories that appeared in his debut collection, as well as earlier drafts of The Crimson Petal and the White, were completed during the 1980s and stored away. Another novel completed in this period, A Photograph of Jesus, remains unissued. During the 1990s, with the encouragement of his second wife, Eva, Faber began entering – and winning – short story competitions. This led to him being approached by the Edinburgh-based publishers Canongate Books, who have published his work in the UK ever since.

Faber's first published book was a collection of short stories, Some Rain Must Fall, issued in 1998. Of these stories, the title piece had won the Ian St James Award in 1996, "Fish" had won the Macallan Prize in 1996, and "Half a Million Pounds and a Miracle" had won the Neil Gunn Award in 1997.

The first of Faber's novels to be published was Under the Skin (2000), written in, and inspired by, the Scottish Highlands. Like much of Faber's work, it defies easy categorisation, combining elements of the science fiction, horror and thriller genres, handled with sufficient depth and nuance to win almost unanimous praise from literary critics. It was translated into many languages (17 by 2004) and secured his reputation in Europe, as well as being shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award.

Faber's second published novel was The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps (2001), set in Whitby. The original hardback edition included digitally manipulated colour photographs; these were absent from subsequent reissues. Radically different from Under The Skin in tone and theme, The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps attracted mixed reviews.

Faber's third published novel was The Courage Consort (2002), about an a cappella vocal group rehearsing a piece of avant-garde music.

In 2002, Faber's 850-page The Crimson Petal and the White was published. Set in 1870s London and principally concerning a 19-year-old prostitute called Sugar, it was described by some critics as postmodern while others echoed the assertion (made in an early review) that it was "the novel that Dickens might have written had he been allowed to speak freely".[3] Twenty years in the writing, the book showed Faber's admiration for Dickens' prose and George Eliot's narrative architecture, but its themes were informed by feminism, post-Freudian awareness of sexual pathology, and post-Marxian class analysis, as well as by unrestricted access to Victorian pornographic texts that had been suppressed until the late 20th century. The Crimson Petal and the White was a bestseller in the US, Italy, France, Holland and Belgium, and a steady seller in most other countries.

Faber's second collection of short stories The Fahrenheit Twins was published in 2005. Its opening story, "The Safehouse", won second place in the inaugural National Short Story Prize (since renamed the BBC National Short Story Award) in 2005.

Wary of being pigeonholed, particularly in the United States where The Crimson Petal and the White is by far his most popular work, Faber vowed never to write a sequel to his bestselling Victorian novel. However, he did write a number of short stories featuring characters from The Crimson Petal and the White, in scenarios that pre-dated or post-dated the events of the novel. While not a sequel (the novel's controversial ending was allowed to remain definitive and the fates of the heroines Sugar and Agnes were left undisclosed), the stories offered additional perspectives on some of the characters' past and future lives. Issued first in Italy, by Faber's long-term Italian publishers Einaudi, the stories were issued by Canongate in 2006, as The Apple.

"Bye Bye Natalia", Faber's short story following his 2004 visit to Ukraine (see "Journalism" below), was eventually published in the July 2006 edition of Granta and then chosen for inclusion in the 2008 edition of The O. Henry Prize Stories, an annual anthology dedicated to writers who are deemed to have made "a major contribution to the art of the short story".

Faber's novel The Fire Gospel was published in 2008 as part of the Canongate Myth Series. Inspired by the myth of Prometheus, it tells the story of a scholar of Aramaic called Theo, who steals an ancient 'gospel' describing the death of Jesus, from a bombed museum in Iraq. The book gently satirizes the publishing industry.

In 2009, he donated the short story "Walking After Midnight" to Oxfam's 'Ox-Tales' project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. His story was published in the Water collection.[4]

Faber's sixth novel, The Book of Strange New Things, was published in 2014. The novel tells the story of a British missionary to an alien world. After its publication, Faber announced that he would retire from writing novels for adults. In an interview at Waterstones Trafalgar Square, Faber said "I think I have written the things I was put on earth to write. I think I've reached the limit".[5] In June 2015 The Book of Strange New Things was named a Book of the Year by the magazine World.[6] In 2017, Amazon Video released the pilot of a TV adaptation, as Oasis.


In the years 2001 to 2004, Faber reviewed books for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper. Throughout 2004, he wrote a regular feature for The Sunday Herald called "Image Conscious", analysing the layers of meaning, intent and association in various photographs. Since 2003, he has reviewed for The Guardian, mainly choosing foreign fiction in translation, short story collections, graphic novels and books about music.

In 2004, as part of the Authors on the Frontline project, Faber travelled to Ukraine with Médecins Sans Frontières, to witness MSF's intervention in the HIV/AIDS epidemic there.[7] Faber wrote an article for The Sunday Times, published in January 2005.

In 2006, Faber contributed an essay, "Dreams in the Dumpster, Language Down the Drain", to Not One More Death (Verso/Stop The War Coalition), a collection of pieces examining US and UK involvement in the Iraq War.

In 2019, he contributed a piece to A Love Letter To Europe, an anthology of pieces expressing affection for Europe at the time of imminent Brexit.


A four-part television adaptation of The Crimson Petal and the White, produced by the BBC in 2011, starred Romola Garai, Chris O'Dowd, Richard E. Grant and Gillian Anderson.[8]

The Courage Consort has been adapted for radio twice, by the BBC (UK) and the ABC (Australia).[citation needed]

Under the Skin was adapted into a Scottish film, directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson. It premièred at the Venice Film Festival on 3 September 2013.[9]

The Book of Strange New Things was adapted as ten 15-minute episodes for BBC Radio 4 in 2014,[10] and as a pilot for an Amazon Prime TV Series called Oasis.



Short fiction[edit]


  • Undying (2016)


  • Dreams in the Dumpster, Language Down the Drain (2006) collected in Not One More Death


  1. ^ Saadi, S. (13 May 2000), "Infinite Diversity in New Scottish Writing", ASLS Conference, The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, retrieved 13 April 2008
  2. ^ Middlemiss, P., Matilda, Reviews of Australian Books, Austlit, The Resource for Australian Literature, lists Michel Faber… so I feel safe in being able to include him.[permanent dead link].
  3. ^ Hughes, K. (28 September 2002). "Books". The Guardian. London.
  4. ^ Ox-Tales, Oxfam, archived from the original on 20 May 2009
  5. ^ Page, Benedicte (23 October 2014). "Michel Faber: 'This is my last novel'". The Bookseller..
  6. ^ "Four books of the year". World. June 2015.
  7. ^ Journalism.
  8. ^ The Crimson Petal and the White at IMDb
  9. ^ Pulver, Andrew. "Venice 2013: Under the Skin heads triple bill of long-awaited films". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  10. ^ "The Book of Strange New Things". Radio 4. BBC. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2014.


External links[edit]