Do not expect to be uplifted by reading these three new dark novellas by Michel Faber, the Scottish author of ''The Crimson Petal and the White," ''Under the Skin," and ''Some Rain Must Fall." As imaginative as they are -- and each takes us into an uncharted land of strange, out of the ordinary happenings -- they all left this reader with a bad taste in her mouth. What else can you expect from a suicidal singer, an ancient unsolved murder, and two seriously neglected children?
The first novella involves a group of professional singers holed up in a chateau in the Belgian woods practicing for their performance of an extremely difficult avant-garde piece for the Benelux Contemporary Music Festival. Roger Courage is the group's leader; his wife, Catherine, the soprano, sits on the windowsill of their apartment contemplating suicide. She eventually recovers her will to live after spending a lot of time walking in the woods around the chateau, but the singers, temperamental artists all, carry the usual variety of sexual undertones and psychic clashes, and when the bass has a heart attack and dies, the group happily cancels the performance. (The singers didn't like the music anyway.)
The saving grace of novella number one is that Faber has some knowledge of the art of singing and the intricacies of a cappella choral music. What doesn't ring true is the character of a relatively successful soprano who feels suicidal.
''The Hundred Ninety-Nine Steps" opens with a student archeologist on a dig in a Yorkshire abbey, awakened each night by the nightmare of a man trying to cut off her head. The probable reason for this is that she is handicapped. There is some love interest, and she solves a 200-year-old murder mystery with her work by unrolling an old paper scroll and deciphering its message, but in the end, she gives up her chance for love and remains unhappily alone.
''The Fahrenheit Twins" is the strangest and saddest story in the trilogy. Tainto'lilith and Marko'cain Fahrenheit live with their eccentric anthropologist parents on a Russian island. Their mother rarely talks to them, but one thing she has told the preteen twins is that time will turn them into a man and woman. To prevent this, the twins decide that each year they will take a fox to the horizon, cage it so that it is positioned to face the rising sun, and when the sun starts to rise, stab out its eyes.
When their mother becomes ill and dies, their father encourages them to sojourn with her corpse into the wilderness. They discover that the hamper of food their father gave them is empty, and that, obviously, he would prefer that they not return home. Faber's settings are imaginative and rich in detail, but they are strange and unsettling. How twisted, for example, for the author to say this of Catherine Courage when she considers jumping from her window: ''If she could only drop from a height of a thousand storeys into soft, spongy ground, maybe her body would even bury itself on impact."
''The Fahrenheit Twins" is a contemporary horror story told in the old-fashioned fairy tale style. No matter how colorful the language and fascinating the setting, this is a tale of child abuse and neglect. We're not asking for happy endings all the time, but everything, including the description of the Fahrenheit family home -- ''a domed monstrosity of concrete, steel and double-glazed glass, attached umbilically to a generator and humming gently all the time" -- leaves the reader shivering, unsatisfied, and alone with all of these protagonists in their, and our, misery. Too bad the novellas just missed a Halloween publishing date.