D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber review – fantasy that fails to fly

The letter D disappears in a childlike fable from the author of The Book of Strange New Things

Every morning, the heroine of Michel Faber’s new book wakes in her cosy bed on the south coast of England. Dhikilo leads what might look like an ordinary 13-year-old girl’s life, but things are not always easy for her. Dhikilo was born in Somaliland – not Somalia, as she must repeatedly insist – and adopted by Ruth and Malcolm when she was just a year old. Girls at school make fun of her name: “Some names were a problem to have and others weren’t.”

This might lead the reader – whether younger or older – to believe that this story is going to take Dhikilo on a journey of discovery into her past; but that’s not what occurs at all. Just a few chapters in, something extremely odd begins to happen to language. The letter D mysteriously vanishes from everyone’s speech – everyone except Dhikilo’s. When she attends the funeral of her beloved history teacher, Professor Dodderfield (“Oerfiel” in the new parlance), she discovers that he’s not actually dead; and it is he and his companion sphinx, Nelly, who draw Dhikilo into their plan to rescue the vanished letter D.

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