The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Length: 512 pages
Source: Publisher, through NetGalley
Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is an unusual and disquieting novel about love, faith, alienation, and the nature of humanity. Faber’s book, a genre-bending mash-up of literary and science fiction, is full of “strange new things,” indeed. Strange, perhaps, sometimes even outlandish, but always oddly enthralling, this original and thought-provoking novel is one I will not soon forget.
The Story: Faber begins his story as Peter, a minister, prepares to leave his home and his beloved wife Bea and embark upon a mission. Like countless missionaries before him, Peter hopes to convert the natives in a strange land to Christianity. But unlike all the missionaries who have gone before him, Peter’s destination is another planet. A rather shadowy global corporation known as USIC has recruited Peter to travel to their colony on the planet Oasis and to minister to the aliens who live there. As Peter struggles to adjust to life on Oasis and to bring the word of God to the native Oasans, he begins to receive troubling messages from Bea back on Earth.
My Thoughts: I have to admit I that I’ve procrastinated something fierce on writing this review, because I felt like I was still grappling with the issues raised by The Book of Strange New Things a few weeks after completing it. In all honesty, I think I am STILL processing it. This novel is full of big ideas, and possibly it would take me another read to sort all of them out.
For some readers, the meaning of religious faith—and how much a person’s faith can truly be tested before they lose it--may be the most important theme in the novel. But to me, Faber’s exploration of love, emotional distance, and alienation are what really hit home. As Peter gets increasingly involved with the strange alien creatures on Oasis, he begins to adapt their ways of talking, living and thinking . . . and becomes increasingly emotionally distant from his wife Bea on Earth. This growing alienation between the couple, at first so united in their missionary zeal and support for the project, seemed to me a perfect representation of the alienation that any couple can experience over time. At the end of the book, the reader roots for Peter and Bea to overcome the forces pulling them apart, and somehow find their way back together--both physically and emotionally--again.
On the press tour for The Book of Strange New Things over the past few days, Faber has indicated that he does not intend to write another novel. While completing this book, Faber’s wife Eva died of cancer, and he has said, “I wanted this to be the saddest thing I’d ever written.” Knowing about Faber’s loss adds another layer to my interpretation of the novel; it is clear that the grief of loved ones forced apart is a key theme to the book.
I have a few minor quibbles that keep me from rating The Book of Strange New Things as a 5 star book. I felt like some of my questions about the USIC and the purpose of the Oasis colony were never fully answered, and the novel, while mostly absorbing, is a touch long and became plodding in a few sections. I would rate the book a 4 out of 5 stars.
But overall, the novel is a fascinating read that I think will please fans of both literary and science fiction, and leave many readers (including myself) hoping that Faber will, indeed, write another novel—perhaps even a sequel. In the meantime, it is quite clear to me that I need to read Faber’s much acclaimed novel about a Victorian prostitute, The Crimson Petal and the White.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Hogarth, for review consideration, through NetGalley.