What’s it all about?:
A monumental, genre-defying novel over ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents.
It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.
Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.
Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos.
What did I think?:
I was already predisposed to like this novel after adoring Michel Faber’s (arguably) most famous novel, The Crimson Petal And The White some years ago, which has an immovable place on my favourites shelf. I was so sure that I was going to love The Book Of Strange New Things in turn, that I gave it a spot as the fourth book in my Five Star TBR Predictions post and I’m delighted to confirm that I ended up giving it the full five stars, it deserved nothing less. This is a gorgeous, sweeping, slow-burner of a novel that has elements of science-fiction due to where it is set but is completely literary in its execution. I went into it expecting something similar to The Sparrow, which I also thoroughly enjoyed and essentially, got a much more profound narrative where it seems that every word the author has written has been chosen deliberately and methodically to capture the reader’s attention and hook you for the entire length of the tale.
It’s the story of happily married couple, Peter and Bea who are separated for a time when Peter is chosen by USIC, an elusive and mysterious company who have developed a base on another planet where they are carrying out scientific research into the land and its inhabitants – Oasis and the alien dwellers, the Oasans. The Oasans have had two preachers go missing in strange circumstances while learning about the Christian way of life and have now demanded a new preacher to teach them the ways of the Bible otherwise they will not provide the humans on Oasis with any of the food they so desperately need and that the Oasans are in charge of developing. This is where Peter comes in. He is to be the new preacher and at once, strikes up a friendly relationship with the Oasans, builds a church for them, learns how to recognise each one by their quite strange facial features, teaches them about God and provides a conduit for them to receive much needed medicines from the pharmacist on the base.
Meanwhile, at home in England, Bea isn’t dealing with things too well. Not only is she missing her husband and the strong relationship that they have but the world they know appears to be falling apart. There are environmental disasters, rationing, disease, violence, all things that make her question why her husband would leave her behind when her life is clearly threatened. Meanwhile, on Oasis, Peter is becoming more obsessed with his work with the Oasans, not eating or drinking properly and losing touch with reality on a regular basis. He attempts to keep in regular contact with Bea via a messaging service but before long, their relationship becomes incredibly fractured and unpredictable with both losing faith in each other. With the world that Peter used to know slowly disintegrating and his relationship appearing to go the same way, is there a way back for the couple? Or is preaching the word of God and his new flock all that Peter now wants from his life?
I have to say, when I found out that religion played a heavy hand in this novel, I was intrigued as to how it would come across. I’m not particularly religious, although I love learning about different religions and find the issue of faith quite a fascinating one. Peter and Bea are both very religious people, that is true but I found their stories endlessly interesting, particularly Peter who has quite the murky past before he discovers God. This novel does focus on faith quite a lot, obviously that’s Peter’s job and what he’s sent to Oasis to do but this novel is so much more than just religion. It’s a story about relationships and how the strength of them can be tested if a couple is placed in extreme circumstances without much communication and a hell of a lot of stress. I also loved the otherworldly nature of Oasis, and the strange alien inhabitants that I instantly wanted to know more about whilst always feeling an odd sort of mistrust and unease at the way they lived their lives.
The Book Of Strange New Things is such a unique, brilliant read for anyone with an interest in speculative fiction that is nothing short of literary genius. I may have wanted to throw a few things at Peter whilst I was reading and I was desperate to get more chapters from the perspective of Bea, stuck in England in horrific circumstances but each page I read of this story was perfection and I can’t recommend it enough. It fully deserves a place on my favourites shelf alongside The Crimson Petal And The White and I can’t wait to read something else by Michel Faber soon. I’m devastated to learn that this novel is to be his last as I think the literary world has just lost an enormous writing talent.
With a huge thank you to Crown Publishing (Hogarth) and Netgalley for the review copy.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):