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15 October 2020

Review - D by Michel Faber

Design by Marianne Issa El-Khoury
D (A Tale of Two Worlds)
Michel Faber
Doubleday, 17 September 2020
Available as: HB, 291pp, e, audio
Source: Advance e-copy via NetGalley
ISBN: 9780857525109

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of D via NetGalley.

Michel Faber's latest novel is a fun children's adventure, with much danger and peril and plenty of humour.

Schoolgirl Dhikilo has already, by the time the story opens, survived more than her share of adventure, having been rescued by her father as a baby from the almost-a-country Somaliland (not Somalia, as she carefully explains). Finding sanctuary in the UK, she is settled in the town of Cawber-on-Sands on the South Coast with her pleasant foster parents Ruth and Malcolm. Faber shows us how, while happy with them and at school, Dhikilo misses the culture and country she was too young to remember, devouring any facts or gossip she can find online or in the local bookshop or library. Those early parts of the story are filled with longing and missingness even while - as Faber explains - Dhikilo isn't quite sure what it is she's missing.

So perhaps Dhikilo is ready for another adventure when it comes along, as come along it does. Things begin to go wrong. To disappear. Specifically, the letter "D" - then things containing it. So soon there are no more ogs, no more octors at the surgery and no onkey derby at the annual fete. Soon, there is a politician on the TV saying that iversity is all very well, but not if it gets in the way of forging a strong, safe nation.

Why can only Dhikilo see what's missing? That's not clear. Maybe because as an outsider, she's more receptive, more ready to ask questions, awkward questions, and get into trouble for doing so? Even to travel to a strange world (after all, it's not the first time) where she might discover the truth about what's been happening and perhaps even do something about it?

That's what happens, courtesy of a mysterious adult whose house has a gateway in the attic to a frozen world. If that makes you think of Narnia, then yes, it's supposed to - Faber is perfectly clear about the inspiration here and some of the events through that doorway will remind you of CS Lewis's books and the films of them. But there are differences too, I think. In particular, while Dhikilo has an animal guardian here - a Sphinx called Nelly, no less - there's no religious aspect, as with Narnia's Aslan, and much of Dhikilo's progress depends above all else on her courage, common sense and kindness. She has a series of challenges to meet, which I won't say anything about - spoilers! - and as the story unfolded I recognised another influence here: Charles Dickens, with many of the settings and creatures named after, or reflecting, his books - we meet the Quilps and the Drood (sorry, the roo), the names of the rooms in a hotel called Bleak House are based on London prisons and most sinisterly of all, there is a Big Bad called the Gamp, supported by unpleasant magwitches, creatures he claims to be enemies but is working hand-in-glove with. (A bit of satire aimed at lying politicians, I think).

Anyone reading this book who doesn't recognise these names (or some of the scenes and events) won't be puzzled of confused by the story, but if you know what they mean, it does add a little bit to your enjoyment, as will the details revealed towards the end about a certain Professor and his home.

This is, as I have said, above all an exciting, dangerous adventure with a resourceful and wise central character. The subtitle, "A Tale of Two Worlds", as well as its allusion to Dickens, may refer to Dhikilo's adventures in England and in Liminus or to her passage from Somaliland to England, or possibly both. There are, I think, many more than two worlds here, giving much to explore and discover.

I'd strongly recommend D.

For more information about this book, see the publisher's website here.

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