“This is the best of times…” – D – A Tale of Two Worlds by Michel Faber

IMG_13Oct2021at114540We don’t, at this point, need to restate our Michel Faber bona fides do we? We’ve been fans for a long time. We loved Under the Skin, we loved The Crimson Petal and the White, The Fahrenheit Twins, The Fire Gospel, The Book of Strange New Things. And whilst it doesn’t seem right to say we loved Undying, we hold it in high esteem. Last time we spoke, Faber said that he thought The Book of Strange New Things might be his last. We are glad to see that isn’t the case.

D – A Tale of Two Worlds is (it seems quietly) being marketed as a children’s book. That is certainly the absolute best way to approach it. You should know that from the outset because it is what it is – a children’s book, albeit quite possibly for a precocious or well-read child who might pick up on all the references to Dickens in it – but a children’s book all the same.

Our Dorothy, our Lyra, this time around, is Dhikilo, a refugee from Somaliland (and definitely not Somalia) who has been adopted by a perfectly nice English couple and who worries about her actual mum and dad who may no longer be with us. Dhikilo wakes one day to find the letter D removed from the world. It’s gone from street signs, it’s gone from speech, everyone is pretending that it no longer existed. And then one day dogs seems to have disappeared. And donkeys. And dreadlocks. And before you know it, the each and every day seems to be getting harder and harder to navigate because Dhikilo seems to be the only sane person in a world gone mad.

Professor Dodderfield, one of the teachers at her school (a teacher she likes), passes away and she goes to the funeral and sees four strange men at the graveside. The next day she pays a visit to the teacher’s house and – didn’t you just know it? – he isn’t dead and not only that he has a pet Sphinx who can transform into a dog called Nelly Robinson and – curiouser and curiouser – there’s a doorway in his attic that leads to another world, Liminus, a world in which the riddle of the Ds might just be answered.

So Dhikilo and Mrs Robinson travel into Liminus and meet a fair old number of strange folks, from the Magwitches to the Quilps and the Droods. They visit the Bleak House, which is a kind of a shapeshifting hotel a la Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and stumble across a fair few Gamp-loving folk who you imagine might well have voted for Brexit in another universe.

“This is the best of times, this is the best of times, this is the age of knowing everything worth knowing, this is the epoch of belief, this is the season of light, this is the spring of hope, we have everything before us, we are going straight to Heaven…”

This is the Gamp talking, the villain at the heart of D, who I can only see as Boris Johnson but whose speechifying at the close of the book made me feel like Faber is trying to talk to the kids who might want day be in charge in the same way that Dr Seuss talks to the kids at the end of The Lorax.

“I started this novel thirty-five years ago,” Faber writes at the close of the book, “and finished it just in time for the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ death.” We’re fairly sure Dickens would have got as much of a kick out of it as we imagine scores of young children are going to in the coming years.

Any Cop?: Whilst it wouldn’t be the first Faber book we’d steer an adult reader towards, we think readers of Colin Meloy’s Wildwood trilogy will get an almighty kick out of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.