Todd from Central City Library chose Michel Faber's session, 'Strangely human'. Here's his account:
As I watched the irreverent author Paula Morris – here in her role as interviewer – struggle to attach the battery pack of her over-the-ear microphone to her person, I noticed that the two chairs and table that furnished the stage were positioned between two giant potted plants. Faber sat down in his chair and clasped his hands across his lap and waited for Morris who found her seat still clutching the battery pack. When she remarked that the blame for her blunder lay squarely with the one-piece dress she was wearing, I could’ve been forgiven for believing that the ‘Between Two Ferns’ universe I’d just stepped into was quips all the way down.
Yes, the quips did come – mostly from Morris, who, at one point, went to that ANZAC place Kiwis inevitably go when they come face-to-face with an Australian (Netherlands-born Faber did a stint in The Lucky Country before moving to Scotland with his late wife Eva). I don’t recall the specifics of the jibe but something about Australia’s convict past comes to mind.
Faber, good-natured and warm, went along with this, as he did with all of Morris’s questioning. In fact, what became quite clear to me during the hour-long interview was just how good-natured and warm Faber was. Sure, he’d written numerous well-loved books and short story collections (his first novel Under the Skin was published in 1998 and adapted for the screen in 2014) and much had been made of them (Faber’s publisher urged him to apply for British residency to be eligible for the Booker Prize pending the release of his critically-acclaimed tome The Crimson Petal and the White in 2002). But what I got from Michel Faber was much more than just his writer self; more than the author reading (quite entertainingly) from his most recent – and stated, last – novel, The Book of Strange New Things.
We got deep into the world of Faber: his time spent as a nurse; his attitude to religion (he’s non-religious but fascinated by what religion provides for people in times of “un-endable grief and suffering and nightmare”); insight into his marriage to Eva with anecdotes including one about Scotland’s constant cloud cover being the couple’s dream weather scenario; his pastime of composing music, and even the existential wall he hit during the Abbott era in Australia, when he questioned literature’s ability to bring about meaningful change in the world, when no one with any real power seemed to read or value reading.
Fortunately for the book lovers of the world, Michel Faber worked through this crisis of faith. He mentioned that he now believed literature’s value lay in its ability to affect the reader in modest ways like in the quiet of an afternoon. None of this sounded trite or maudlin passing Faber’s lips. Nor was it saccharine when he read three heartrending poems from his forthcoming poetry collection, Undying, about his life with Eva just before she died from cancer in 2014, to an audience of complete strangers. I can say without a doubt that Paula Morris’s tears weren’t the only ones shed in the room. The tenderness of this final five minutes was sanctioned by everyone present – no doubt due, in big part, to the openness and affability of this former recluse named Michel Faber.
As the session concluded, Faber hugged Paula Morris, and I thought about how good he is at the end. About when I read the final sentence of The Book of Strange New Things, exactly the kind of asphyctic line that made the time spent inhabiting the world of the novel worth it – even if it was only in the quiet of an afternoon.