Share for friends:

The Hundred And Ninety-Nine Steps (2002)

The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps (2002)

Book Info

3.36 of 5 Votes: 2
Your rating
1841953288 (ISBN13: 9781841953281)

About book The Hundred And Ninety-Nine Steps (2002)

I was assuming I would like this more than four times as much as I like The Thirty-Nine Steps, which is a lot, but it didn’t turn out quite like that. It is a fairly topical read at the moment (January 2013) because Whitby, where the novella is set, has been in the news, firstly because bones are falling out of the eroding cliff-top graveyard onto the hapless residents below; and because Peggy in The Archers has recently dragged her unwilling and complaining daughter Lilian up those very 199 steps to visit the abbey while reminiscing about the great time she had in the town during the war.Michael Faber manages to cover a lot of ground, in emotional and historical terms, if not geographically, in this novella’s slight compass. Siân, an expert on manuscripts and paper conservation, is staying at a local hotel while learning archaeology at a dig as part of a group excavating first millennium human remains at the abbey. Her back-story slowly unfolds, the reasons for her current loneliness and why she suffers such terrible nightmares. One day she meets Magnus, a doctor and medical researcher, out running with a dog. Magnus later shows her a two-hundred year-old manuscript, intriguingly hinting at a murder confession, rolled up in a bottle which his father had rescued from a demolition site many years before. The narrative follows the parallel tracks of their developing relationship, her work on salvaging the text from the ravages of time, and how she comes to a more positive view of herself.Siân is the focus of the story, and she is a well-rounded, credible character. However, Faber had a problem with Magnus. Siân is attracted to him at the beginning, but in order to prevent this turning into a glib romance, Faber has introduced some grit. Thus Magnus is not an entirely sympathetic character, and is prone to saying the wrong thing. Unfortunately some of his remarks are pointlessly, and implausibly, antagonistic (especially given that he wants to start a relationship). This friction sets up the opportunity to examine the mores of the past, by allowing Siân to provide a more nuanced defence against Magnus’s blunt, and though often reasonable (particularly his point about how we reconstruct the past), at other times philistine, views. However, Magnus remains a two-dimensional foil against which Siân’s transformation can be seen in relief. We never get inside his personality as we do hers, which makes the characterisations unbalanced.On the other hand, the painstaking rescue of the manuscript is an excellent narrative hook driving the mystery, because you have to wait while Siân teases out each instalment, trying to generate meaning from the partial information in much the same way an archaeologist has to decipher the partial remains left by the past, or how we decipher the personalities of those with whom we come into contact, re-evaluating as we go. Once we hear the whole confession, it transpires that what happened is not what we had assumed, warning us that we can make easy judgements about the past that are erroneous, and do not do our ancestors justice.The blurb says that Faber deploys “a masterful sense of ambiguity”, like The Turn of the Screw. Well, I don’t think that on this evidence Faber will be bothering Henry James, but on its own more modest terms this slight work is a breezy visit to a charming, atmospheric spot, and is excellent publicity for English Heritage, which receives numerous name-checks.

The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps is a good novella. I’ve read and loved the author’s novel, The Fire Gospel so I’ve wanted to read more of his work. I liked a lot about The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps. This novella is well-written, interesting and really engages the reader. I liked the characters, especially the dog. I liked Sian deciphering the scroll and learning of Mary’s tragic fate centuries ago. I liked Sian revealing her unhappy past. There are some things that let it down. I don’t feel this works as a stand-alone piece of writing and really comes across as the opening of a much longer piece. I felt like I was reading something incomplete. I thought it was strange that the attraction between the main characters doesn’t go anywhere. Faber makes it clear they’re attracted to each other and this sort of fizzles out. I did enjoy The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, interesting read despite its flaws.

Do You like book The Hundred And Ninety-Nine Steps (2002)?

what a lovely little gem of a's a quick read, only 116 pages in my edition. but i imagine i will re-read this one a few times. it's one of those books that i am sure will reveal more with each one level, it's a boy-meets-girl romance, albeit on the prickly side. at another, it's a sweet meditation on death and the immortal (if there is to be immortal), with some really fine points made about honor and dignity, and what we live for. for all that it deals with some heavy stuff, its ending is hopeful (and not in an icky hollywood way either).and (view spoiler)[the girl gets the dog! yay! (hide spoiler)]

This novella starts out very promisingly; an archaeologist with an unhappy background is beset by recurring nightmares of being throttled to death by a mystery man with a strong and massive grip. While climbing the hundred and ninety-nine steps to her dig at Whitby Abbey, she meets a handsome yet enigmatic stranger who incidentally is a tall man with muscular arms and large hands. Attracted to one another, they become involved in untangling a mystery contained within a centuries-old scroll, rolled up tightly within a glass bottle. What words they can decipher reveals a story bordering on the vampiric... The first half of this book is great - very atmospheric, with evocative writing that draws you in subtly, enveloping you like sea-mist creeping over the cliff-tops. Lust, death and violence seem to permeate the very stones of Whitby, and the opening pages. Yet, when Sian succeeds in deciphering the story contained within the scroll, and the mysetery is revealed, the atmosphere changes very suddenly from enigmatic to humdrum. The burgeoning relationship between the two main characters dissolves, and likewise any subsequent interest in their future fades. I finished the book with the distinct sense of there being something missing. The opening had set up the beginnings of a dark and twisted tale full of subconscious desires; what we were left with was a woman who gets to inherit a dog.
—Sarah Hale

Sometimes I write reviews and have nightmares about how appalling and misinformed and rubbish these reviews must look on the ALMIGHTY WALL OF REVIEWS, and I must step back into the reviewing box and tackle books with a heroic second heave, like a bleeding Ali lunging for the last time at Trevor Berbick. So: this novella is an endearing mixture of modern horror and romance. It falls into the camp of modern “character piece,” focusing on Siân, a Welsh-born student architect digging up remains at Whitby Abbey who unravels a family scroll given to her by cringey student doctor Mack. The novella unearths revelations about Siân’s accident in Bosnia while relating an 18thC murder intrigue and does so with wit and natural charm.In the original review I posted a picture of Roy from The IT Crowd, but the shame has haunted me ever since, so from now on it is text text text all the way, baby.
—MJ Nicholls

download or read online

Read Online

Write Review

(Review will shown on site after approval)

Other books by author Michel Faber

Other books in category Fiction