A monumental, genre-defying novel that David Mitchell calls "Michel Faber’s second masterpiece," 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Novelist Michel Faber gained fame with his horror-tinged debut, Under the Skin (now a movie), and 2002’s edgy Dickensian tale The Crimson Petal and the White. The Dutch-born, Scotland-based author’s newest book is another genre-bending masterpiece. Peter and Bea are a devout couple who dedicate their lives to helping others and propagating their faith, all while struggling to stay hopeful and connected in their own relationship. The Book of Strange New Things opens with Peter embarking on a murky mission to Oasis, a faraway planet where he’ll minister to the local extraterrestrials. Hallucinogenic, spooky, and fascinating, Faber’s tale is an original meditation on faith and the end times.
Faber's (The Crimson Petal and the White) novel could at first be mistaken for another period piece, as a Christian missionary named Peter bids farewell to his devoted wife, Beatrice, and departs on a mission in foreign lands. Only gradually does the reader discover that the book is set in the far future, where half of what survives is owned by a shadowy company called USIC and that it is not the inhabitants of a mere continent whose souls Peter aims to save, but those of a whole new planet, known as Oasis. He finds willing converts in the alien Oasans they are eager to learn each new lesson from the Bible, which they call The Book of Strange New Things but his relations with his fellow human colonists are far rockier. What's worse, Beatrice writes to Peter with grim reports of life back on Earth, where a series of calamities seems to signal the coming apocalypse; more devastating is her confession that she is pregnant with their child in an environment suddenly less hospitable to life than Oasis. Peter will come to question both the finer points of Scripture and his faith as he chooses between the old world and the new. Faber's story isn't eventful enough to support its length, and Beatice and Peter's correspondence grows tiresome. But the book wears its strong premise and mixture of Biblical and SF tropes extremely well.
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Strange New Thing: a Spiritual Book that Works
The Book of Strange New Things is my first foray into Faber-land. My wife recommended the novel to me based on a review she had read. She suggested I not read the review, but that I just dive in because it looked like something I might enjoy. She was right.
A couple of caveats before we continue: for my Christian friends whose literary tastes have been shaped by contemporary, best-seller Christian fiction, get ready for a very different read in Faber's novel. If you are a fan of more mossy Christian fiction - e.g., the likes of Lewis, Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Tolkien, then brace yourself for a much more sober, reflective novel.
It's more of a meditation on the cost of Christian commitment in a foreign – really foreign – environment, than it is an action novel, or even a work of science fiction if you understand those genres in any conventional sense.
In fact, there's little action to keep you turning pages, until the last 150 pages or so. I almost gave up three times, feeling that the pace was just too slow for me. But that last 150 pages are worth the wait.
The other caveat: there is sexual imagery in the book, though it isn't voyeuristic. It is fairly graphic, though those scenes are infrequent and brief. More importantly, those scenes function to highlight a natural tension in the plot that would have been difficult to handle with any greater discretion, and still remain true to the central character and his predicament.
Just a bit about the setting and the characters:
The setting for most of the novel, Oasis, is no Lewisian Perelandra. The inhabitants of the distant planet where Peter ministers as a Christian pastor are as different from the exquisite Adam and Eve replicants of C. S. Lewis's pre-fall Venus as one could imagine.
Peter's world is bleak, and dull. And yet, it is engaging due to the characters who inhabit that flat space. The physical space provides a featureless canvass against which the strange characters emerge as vibrant souls in search of fulfillment.
If you have heard that this is a Christian novel in the usual sense, then you will be disappointed. Contrary to a lot of Christian fiction, this novel is a written with a view to fully rounded characters, whose struggles we witness up very close and very personal.
The plot is simple and direct, stark in its simple construction, but with the controversial elegance of an I. M. Pei design. To reveal much of the plot detail at all will spoil the impact of the story. Read it - as I did - without knowing any more than what I am revealing here. I believe you are in for a treat - a fine meal that should be enjoyed slowly, even reverently.
Very sci fantasy meets religion. A bit hard for me to get through all the religion stuff but it was worth it. Not happy with the ending but many authors end like that so it's about expected.
Couldn't put it down
How do I review a book that seemed written expressly for me? I love science fiction, am a strong Christian working with a different culture--homeless people, side by side with my pastor husband, and I love good literature. This book is really good--it isn't just escape, it is real. The writing flows like the atmosphere on Oasis. Highly recommend it.