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.