Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

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Genre: Science Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Canongate

Length: 585 pages

Format: Physical copy/Audiobook

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: October 6th 2014

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

“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.”

 

Review

 

The Book of Strange New Things is a book I could easily reread : it is beautifully written, the story is unique, the characters are very human (which means that they are flawed as hell) and it is clever. It ticks all my kind of boxes. However it never reach the point where I was 100 % amazed and could say without a doubt that I was enjoying it. Some parts of it I found awesome, in other I was bored, sometimes I really connected with Peter, the main character and sometimes, I wanted to shout at him.

It took me almost two months to read which is a lot for me. It might not have been arranged by the fact that I mostly listening to it on audio (I’m not an audiobook person, I think that they tend to exagerate issues in books because since it’s slower, you have more time to notice them). Anyway, it took me a long time to read. When you spend that long with a book, it’s hard to judge it the way you do with « normal » reads. Indeed, I think that since you experience the book way longer, some of its defaults and/or interesting ideas don’t really affect you the same way.

This book has quite an interesting premise, it follows Peter Leigh, a preacher, in his mission to teach the word of God to an alien species. Indeed, it appears that the native of Oasis, the first extraterrestrial world discovered by humans are fascinating by what they called the Book of Strange New Things which is, of course, the Bible. We follow Peter’s journey to Oasis, his discovery of the Oasians and his contacts with them. Of course, his mission brings up a lot of questions. Why does USIC, the corporation working on Oasis need him so much ? Why does the Oasians are fascinated by religion ? Why the former preachers disappeared ?

If you think that you might find this book preachy, don’t be afraid by that. I am not a religious person at all and I never found the book to be pushy or to focused on Christianity. On the contrary, I found that it focuseon what it is the best in religion in general which is mostly : be kind to others and I don’t think that you need to be a religious person to appreciate that.

Even if this book is set in an extraterrestrial world, it doesn’t really feel like speculative fiction as much as straight up literary fiction. Yes the setting is different but for me, it was more a device used by Faber to do what he wanted with the characters more than anything else. The books is much more centered on character relationship than on the actual plot.

Indeed, when Peter left Earth, he also left Bea, his wife. His only way to communicate with her is the Shoot, a device that allows him to send emails that she receives almost immediately (even if they are light years away from each other). Thanks to the Shoot, Peter soon learns that things on Earth might be completely falling appart and that while he is living a pleasant life on Oasis, it’s not the case of Bea.

One of the main theme of this book is how people deal with distance and how it can affect their feelings and views on others. Even if Peter is concerned for his wife, he feels extremely distant to what his happening to his home. How could he care for an earthquake if it’s not even in his country, or his planet ?

It was fascinating to see how Peter reacted to the events on Earth and on Oasis differently and how it affected him. I can’t say that he is selfish exactly, he’s actually extremely caring to everyone around him but he still struggle to reassure the ones he loves the most.

 

“The world changes too fast. You take your eyes off something that’s always been there, and the next minute it’s just a memory.”

 

If you want to read The Book of Strange New Things for the plot, you might be a little disappointed. I didn’t go in this book with a ton of expactations because I knew that it received a good number of mixed reviews that mentionned that it was a bit dry. I personally don’t think so, but it’s true that if you expect this book to be filled with actions, I wouldn’t recommend it. It is a great adventure in its own way and if you want to read something a little slower that focuses mostly on relationships with really interesting discussions about religion and how scientist can see it, you should should probably read the first few pages and if you like the style of it, you should give it a try!

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

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