The Book of Strange New Things
by Michel Faber Published by Crown Publishing Group
on October 28th 2014 Source: Publisher Pages:
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After years preaching his faith on Earth, Peter Leigh is hired to join the ranks of a strange corporation, based on a newly discovered planet called Oasis, and serve as the Christian pastor to the native population. The mission forces Peter to leave behind his wife Bea, who grows increasingly distant as life on Earth becomes unstable and Peter loses himself among the Oasans.
The Book of Strange New Things starts with a farewell drive filled with uncertain conversations and fumbling passion that wonderfully establishes the novel’s central relationship. The uncertainty builds throughout the early part of the novel, as Peter’s journey to and initial exploration of Oasis reveals more details about both the company that hired him and the population he is intended to serve.
Unfortunately, the intensity begins to wear thin as The Book of Strange New Things pushes on. While I certainly understand the need to establish a clear vision of the planet Oasis, readers are constantly trapped in a repetitive back and forth between Peter’s life among the Oasans and time on the corporation’s compound, dotted with epistolary exchanges with Bea. Though these exchanges become highlights, as the couple’s relationship is the true heart of the novel, the cycle soon feels like a chore propelled only by the potential reward of piecing together unanswered questions. It’s almost as if Faber expects our anticipation to stand in for pacing and plotting through nearly two-thirds of the book.
The endpoint of that anticipation is where The Book of Strange New Things finally fell apart for me. Perhaps it was the early buzz or the rave reviews, but I held on through the drudgery of the book’s middle in hopes I would be challenged and faced with big questions, much as I was with Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Though the Oasans’ reason for seeking Christianity is an interesting surprise, I found almost everything else revealed by the novel’s end to be predictable, the questions posed uninspiring and those ignored off-putting*. While the combination of sci-fi and literary fiction is a refreshing one, I think it has unfairly encouraged many to forgive the novel’s weaknesses and praise ideas that might otherwise fall flat.
*I’m being intentionally vague in hopes of avoiding spoilers for those who haven’t yet read, but I’d be interested in discussing further (with spoiler warnings) in the comments with those of you who have.