I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of Michel Faber’s new novel ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ which is due to be published in the UK this month. It tells the story of Peter Leigh, a Christian minister who is chosen by a mysterious corporation called USIC to embark on an out-of-this-world mission to a planet called Oasis in a far-away galaxy. Expecting a hostile reception from the native population, Peter is surprised to find the Oasans are keen to learn from the Bible which they refer to as The Book of Strange New Things and discovers that he isn’t the first pastor to visit them. However, Peter’s pregnant wife, Bea, is struggling to survive as various apocalyptic events unfold back on Earth which is putting a strain on their extremely long-distance relationship.
The publisher’s note at the beginning of my copy read: “It is often said that good things come to those who wait. In this instance, the good thing is a monumental genre-defying novel more than ten years in the making… Strange, mesmerising, and replete with an achingly familiar emotional complexity, this haunting novel raised questions for me that preoccupy me still.” After being completely spellbound by ‘Under the Skin‘ and ‘The Crimson Petal and the White‘ last year, ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ has been one of my most highly anticipated books of 2014. In fact, I don’t think my expectations for a novel had been this high since I read ‘The Goldfinch‘ by Donna Tartt at the beginning of the year. Thankfully, they were met.
I read ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ at the end of July but I am still struggling to put into words exactly why I loved it and what I got out of it. It is a book which poses a lot of questions about life, the universe and everything and leaves virtually all of them unanswered. Once again, Faber has produced something quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before and successfully blends the biblical and the sci-fi elements of the story into something truly original and strangely believable. I use the term “sci-fi” rather loosely here as it is very much a literary novel and difficult to pin down in terms of genre.
Faber explores the theme of colonisation in a new and much more complex frame than the straightforward “us vs. them” formula of so many other novels. The equally loaded theme of religion is also treated subtly with neither endorsement or condemnation and the strain on Peter and Bea’s relationship is conveyed well through their messages to each other. To say any more would give away too much of the story which is thoughtfully written and cleverly ambiguous right to the end.
While Faber’s latest novel has more in common with ‘Under the Skin’ in terms of genre than ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’, all three books are so different and yet equally brilliant in their own way. ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ is truly epic in scale yet compulsively readable and is definitely one of my top books of 2014.
Many thanks to Crown Publishing for sending me an advance review copy via NetGalley. ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ will be published later this month in the UK.
12 responses to “The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber”
I just read this as well and am in the process of writing up my review. Like you, I loved the novel, but I’m having a difficult time pinpointing the exact reasons why.
Definitely agree – I find it harder to write reviews for books I really, really loved anyway but this one was even more difficult!
That’s often my experience as well, because I want so badly to do the book justice. Besides, it’s so often the feelings the book leaves me with rather than any particular aspect of the novel that make the difference between a book I think is solid and a book I absolutely love.
I read “The Crimson Petal and the White” a long time ago and liked it. Looking forward to reading this new book. Thanks for sharing.
While I am about a third of the way through The Goldfinch (and the same for The Luminaries), I am slightly underwhelmed. It is hard for any book to live up to the expectations given the reviews. A good read nonetheless.
Michael Faber is an author who also is consistently good. You obviously think the same. I look forward to reading this new and seemingly complex novel. I will try to keep my expectations in check. Thanks for review.
I have heard a lot about The Sparrow recently, and this is sounding similar. Have you read The Sparrow? Sounds good, nonetheless! I’ve had my eye on it, but haven’t seen it reviewed much, so I’m glad you liked it so much.
Wow, I saw a description of this book the other day and wasn’t really sold on it, but this review makes me want to pre-order it right this second. It sounds so good!
I adored The Crimson Petal and The White but was disappointed with The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps. However, this one sounds like it’s worth checking out. Thanks for the review.
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A Little Blog of Books has a review of Michel Faber’s anticipated new book The Book of Strange New Things. This genre crossing book combines science fiction and biblical elements to tell a story about a pastor ministering to inhabitants of another planet. Check out Little Blog of Books new review.
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