Michel Faber, D: A Tale of Two Worlds (2020)

Author: Michel Faber

Title: D: A Tale of Two Worlds

Format: E-book

Pages: 304

Series: –

Let me start by saying that I discovered, with some surprise, that I’m not the intended audience for this book: it’s definitely a children’s book, one of the few occasions where these distinctions do matter. D: A Tale of Two Worlds is full to bursting with good intentions and important issues, from the casualty of racism in modern England to the plight of immigrants from Africa, to xenophobia and post-truth and the power of words. And yet all of them are very much simplified, made slightly anecdotal and not really significant (with the exception of the disappearance of the letter D which becomes the catalyst for our protagonist’s journey) – more like inconveniences than some truly troubling issues. At the same time, it’s a bit of a self-indulgent book, delighting in taking barely concealed potshots at Trump, which for a young reader might be a tad confusing.

While Faber in the afterword indicates his inspirations – mainly Dickens, who even makes an appearance as a very old and eccentric history professor, but also Lewis’s Narnia, Thurber’s The Wonderful O and the Wonderland novels – I mostly felt that D: A Tale of Two Worlds was a modern twisted retelling of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is not a bad thing in itself, but I expected a bit more originality from Faber.

But ad rem: Faber’s D: A Tale of Two Worlds is a story of a young girl, Dhikilo, who discovers one day that the letter D is disappearing from the world. Inexplicably, magically, the letter D is being stolen from the language, from books and speech – and with its disappearance, ideas and things whose name start with this letter, begin to change their meaning or to disappear as well. Dhikilo’s only hope is her retired history teacher, professor Dodderfeld, who’s dead. Or rather ea, in the new parlance.

In order to save the world from D’s fatal and definitive disappearance, Dhikilo must embark on a perilous journey to a different reality, the wintry and dangerous world of Limnus. And as befits a proper Bildungsroman, she will survive many magical and dangerous adventures and return not only triumphant, but also wiser, and braver, and more experienced. She will also gain a new friend, a formidable and enigmatic Mrs Robinson: a shapeshifter equally happy in her chocolate Labrador and Sphinx form.

All this sounds quite lovely – and would be, I’m sure, if it didn’t borrow so heavily from the children classics mentioned above, which for Faber’s creation remain an unsurpassed, unattainable ideal. I do like the idea of a tribute to the classics that is more current, more relatable to the modern audience – sadly, this one took this concept a bit too far for it to fully work.

That said, I enjoyed the first, more realistic part of the novel a lot – much more than the second. Dhikilo’s real-life troubles were to me much more interesting than her fairy-tale exploits in the world of Limnus. Her difficult situation as an orphan immigrant from Somaliland in the middle of the very white and very British English small coastal town was timely and interesting. But the remaining two-thirds of the book seemed in contrast surprisingly generic, with various obligatory monsters needing conquering or tricking along the way, and topped by a thinly veiled satire on Trump and his followers.

And here lies the crux of the problem: Faber’s tale is tonally uneven, oscillating between a fairy-tale and a newspaper editorial, and disregarding internal logic in favor of presenting author’s pet peeves. It seems like Faber couldn’t fully decide who is the intended reader of D: A Tale of Two Worlds, and in the end settled on himself. If it sounds harsh, it shouldn’t (well… not entirely :P) – I am of the opinion that authors ought to love their works. Though they should also be able to accept criticism ;).

I was relieved by the nonviolent ending, contrasting especially starkly with the offhandedly delivered reveal of the fate of one of the people of Limnus – the Drood, hated by the nasty little dictator Gamp, had their tips of tongues cut off in what seems like a an organized hate crime. So… fluffy unicorns (umm, sorry, sphinxes) and rainbows, and then – bam, here we are, a race of catlike creatures who cannot speak the letter D because their tongues had been removed. As I said, tonal unevenness abounds. And while some of the adventures seemed very timely and bitter-sweetly real – for example, the unending soulless bureaucracy which can be conquered only when the bureaucrats allow themselves to bend the rigid laws and show their humanity – some seemed too focused on delivering a stinging blow to the real-life model for the book’s villain: e.g. an overpriced hotel which lures guests in but doesn’t want to let them out before it fleeces them out of their money or drives them mad.

As it is, Faber’s novel is interesting enough to breeze through during a lazy afternoon. D: A Tale of Two Worlds is laudably conscious of the mundane problems of the modern world, but ultimately fails to bring a sense of wonder to the magical part of the tale.

I have received a copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.

Score: 6,5/10

48 thoughts on “Michel Faber, D: A Tale of Two Worlds (2020)

  1. It seems like Faber couldn’t fully decide who is the intended reader of D: A Tale of Two Worlds, and in the end settled on himself

    Between that one sentence and the potshots at Trump, I’ll be sure to avoid this like the plague. Thanks for the warning.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I can see the author’s choices here as problematic in the height of the US election time.
      As you probably know, I’m not a Trump supporter by any means 😉 and yet I find myself wishing that Faber had been less self-indulgent and less “current” and instead focused on the concept of tyranny without cheap shots. I don’t know, in a kids book that aspires to be universal such gleeful finger-pointing seems very short-lived.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Interestingly, this chimes with a discussion I was having with some students yesterday, regarding a couple of 1952 novels that some felt had buried the story under political agendas. This doesn’t sound like either a book to read, or to gift.

    I’m also wary of contemporary novels where it’s been thought necessary for the author to provide some kind of explanation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, I must agree; this had potential, but it’s been mostly squandered on the satirical, short-lived elements of the critique of current events – and it’s doubly painful for me as I agree with the author’s political views! I just wish he left them out of his book for children 😉

      But every gift receiver will be much better off with Alice in Wonderland or Baum’s Oz, or a few carefully chosen Narnia books 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. buriedinprint

        But, with respect, you are both clearly thinking and reflecting on these matters already; you are discussing these matters with other people (students, friends, partners, neighbours, activists?). Isn’t it possible that this book is very useful, very relevant for those readers who really are not and have not been accustomed to thinking/talking about politics? If you are only/mostly talking to other people who have already agreed that politics does matter and is something worthy of discussion, you might be overlooking the power and importance of changing/challenging some other less-engaged readers’ minds. Especially young readers?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I get what you’re saying; but I’d maintain that while this book started out with just the perfect pitch for a conversation starter, especially for kids, the moment it went down the way of a short-term satire it lost its credibility. I’m no Trump fan; very far from it, actually. But I don’t see how laughing at people can make them approach any topic with a willingness to discuss it; in my experience it’s rather the opposite. That’s why I’m talking about lost potential here – it starts out great, but doesn’t end this way. As I said, though, I’m not the intended recipient of this novel – so maybe the things that rub me the wrong way here won’t be so noticeable for others 🙂

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      1. Yes, but with KSR you know exactly what you’re signing up for; and his books go for the universal causality instead of particular, sniggering finger-pointing. Plus, I’d argue that the time-constrained peculiar situation of Earth in time of global warming for KSR constitutes a necessary setting; it’s an axiomatic element, a foundation of his worldbuilding, and without it the books wouldn’t exist in the form they do. Whereas here, the Trump satire could have easily be removed and it wouldn’t change much.

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        1. Yes indeed, good points. Axiomatic indeed, hadn’t thought about it that way.

          If I’m totally honest here, I do think TMFTF will feel dated quickly, in under a decade. That’s not really the case for his other books, not even his other clifi titles (Green Earth and NY2140).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Got you. I’m pretty stoked for Aurora now, and I’m hoping for it to live up to the expectations – Unconquerable Sun at 15% mark is okay but a far cry from mind-blowing or even intellectually challenging and I really need a dose of some solid SF 🙂

            Like

    1. Thanks! 😀
      Yes, it had potential – and it’s not all bad, just maybe too uneven, and the disparate parts glued together a bit too hastily for my tastes. I applaud the author’s sentiments, I just feel sentiment alone is not enough for a good book.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read another book by Michel Faber and it was on the opposite narrative end of this one, being a mix of SF and horror (aliens kidnapping humans for food) and I find this… change of pace quite weird: that said, the uncertainty in tone would probably not work for me…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! 🙂
      I’ve heard a lot of praise regarding Faber’s books, and this one had such an interesting premise I thought it would be a great entry point to his works. But apparently D is so different from his typical fare that I’d need to read something else by Faber to make my mind up about him 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The idea of this book was intriguing, the vanishing of the letter D sounds promising enough but… But all the rest does not seem so great, sadly. The unevenness in tone and the mix between a story for children and a political thing doesn’t sound so good. And I agree on what you wrote about the writer enjoying what he (or she) is doing and when you as a reader can share in the fun, it could be a really good thing (I remember that when I was reading the second, or the third… Sorry, I am not sure which one it was, book in The Left Hand of God series I had the feeling that the author wrote that book to amuse himself and to rent about politics, but it was well mixed in the storyline and worldbuilding and for me it was just one more thing to enjoy) but when it didn’t mix well with the rest well… It is not so good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the premise was really cool, and it was what ultimately prompted me to pick up that book. And the first part of this book is very interesting, and I had high hopes for the second – so imagine my dismay 😉 Pratchett’s books are often satirical – but never in a particular, making fun of a specific person way; Pratchett knew that this type of stuff is extremely short-lived, so instead he criticized (lovingly) human vices and stereotypes – and that worked so much better.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmm, intriguing, especially given that — by no means faint — praise from Neil Gaiman. Despite your faint praise (and I appreciate your balancing positive points!) I’d be prepared to glance at this if it crossed my path … though it sounds that I’d be better advised to seek out his more famous adult title.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do wonder if this praise is indeed intended for this book 😉
      Funnily enough, I picked this up to try something by this author; but it seems that indeed, if you want to have a good sample of his style, another title might serve you better – apparently, this one is the odd duck 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The disappearance of the letter D and things beginning with D reminds me of The Memory Police, but judging from your review the latter is a much better story. I think, I can live without this one – it sounds like a strange mix of genres and I feel sorry for the poor kids having Trump references in their literature (even if agree with the author’s sentiment).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funnily enough, I was reminded of Miéville’s The City and the City, and of Ken Liu’s SF short story about alien invasion and differences in memory… I feel this theme of forgetting/remembering is very important, especially nowadays – I just think it could have been better served in this particular novel than what Faber came up with.
      The trouble with this book is that there are some really cool ideas – the wall/bureaucracy adventure put a fresh if somewhat sinister spin on the classic idea of a maze. But two pages on, and you get the very thinly veiled satire on Trump and especially Trump’s supporters depicted as particularly ugly, bearded and dumb creatures. Whatever I might think of Trump, and believe me, it’s nothing good, this kind of stuff feels, at least to me, inappropriate – especially in a kids book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree about the theme of forgetting/remembering being important and I enjoy reading books about it. It’s so disappointing when an author comes up with some cool, original ideas, but fails to deliver – I always find it is such a wasted potential.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah well – at least I don’t regret reading this (and there are some books I wish I had never opened 🤣) But you’re right – precisely because it’s so uneven and self-indulgent, this book seems to have ended up costing Faber quite a lot in terms of reader appreciation – at least considering the reviews available!

      Thanks, Lashaan! 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  7. S.D. McKinley

    Geez, I don’t really know how to think about how such a charged and directed political message could be put in a novel like this. How could an author think that this would be entertaining? Or do they just assume we are too dumb to notice? 🤯

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, to be fair there are plenty of politically charged novels recently – clifi, for example, or most dystopias. But political satire is in itself so short-lived and focused on the now that I was really surprised it found its way into a children novel, of all things! I’m all for well-timed political jokes, it’s just that I feel there’s a time and place for everything, and this here seemed particularly ill-placed.

      And it would be very difficult not to notice it here, let me tell you 🤣🤣🤣

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Btw, seems like once again I can’t comment on your posts from WP, and your site doesn’t recognize me and wants all my details for comments… I thought it was maybe a glitch with one post, but now it’s on every post I visit… :/

          Like

            1. I don’t see your posts in the WP app any longer – for some reason you’re gone from my reader app and I only get email notifications, so when I visit it’s through the browser.
              So if I missed some posts it’s because for a while I didn’t realize your posts weren’t visible in the reader 😉

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Just wanted to write I loved your mushroom and I totally get what you’re saying about cooperation – it’s just very rewarding when you see this sort of synergy 😀

                  And if you do decide to dabble in vectoring, I’ll be very happy to hear more about it! 😀

                  Like

                  1. S.D. McKinley

                    Oh, well that’s very kind of you to say. I’m glad others can take something out of some art work. That Asher book was quite the read!! And apologies in advance for the short talk at the moment, but I have my hands full with family.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. No worries! 🙂
                      I know I like getting feedback, especially positive, and I think most people are the same, so I want to give praise where it’s due 😀

                      Like

                    1. Ah, it’s a minor thing, but if you were wondering why there are no comments, here’s your answer 😉 And since comments are the lifeblood of a blog (or at least lymph or plasma) I figured you’d be interested 🙂
                      Cheers!

                      Like

          1. buriedinprint

            I’m so glad you mentioned this. I’ve had this come up with about 80% of the sites I’ve visited today (I’m doing my every-couple-of-week-catch-up-online thing) and have had to rekey my own details so many times that I can’t remember how to spell PRINT. So, at least, you’d think that I can’t remember. :-/ (Yours is fine though!)

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lynn!
      Yes, it is quite strange, as if sewn together of slightly incompatible pieces – a bit like a Frankenstein’s monster, and with a similar result 😉

      Like

  8. buriedinprint

    Michel Faber is an author I keep meaning to read, but I’ve never gotten around to it yet (from his The Crimson Petal and the White days). In the meantime, I did enjoy the interviews I heard about his previous novel (for adults). If he’s been on the circuit for this one, I’ve not caught anything yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I know what you mean, I’ve been meaning to read something by him for a while now and that’s exactly why I picked this 😉 Not the best choice, it seems – I might give him another chance! 😀

      Like

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