Michael Faber’s latest novel is certainly an intriguing one. The Book of Strange New Things is a science fiction novel, in it we are introduced to a new world whilst examining issues that are very much part of our human world.
Our protagonist, Peter Leigh, is a Christian pastor. He was saved from a previously troubled existence by religion and the support of loving wife Beatrice. He is extremely close to his wife but the novel opens with their separation as Peter is forced to leave her behind to embark on a humanitarian mission in deep space. Selected as a missionary by a large global corporation called USIC, Peter’s mission is to establish a base on a planet called Oasis in a neighbouring galaxy.
On arrival we gradually unearth the world of the Oasons who inhabit the planet. These mysterious ‘aliens’ are very different in appearance, have their own language and a very strong religious faith. Admittedly, as someone who is not a frequent reader of sci-fi I did find it a little hard to get into this book. Additionally, after the initial intrigue surrounding the Oasons I didn’t really enjoy much of the plot which followed.
‘Whether it’s a human body or Christian endeavour or life in general, we can’t keep it going if too much of what we need is taken away from us’
The parts of the novel I enjoyed the most focused on the gradual unravelling of Peter and Bea’s marriage. This is very much mediation on the strength of love and relationships, examining the strain that distance can cause to a seemingly unbreakable bond. This is shown in epistolary form, we see the messages exchanged between the couple via ‘the Shoot’ Within these messages there is stark contrast between the events taking place on earth and on Oasis. Bea relays tales of major disruption and natural disaster, whilst in another galaxy Peter’s days seem more mundane, everyday events of building relationships with the inhabitants, feeding and teaching.
The Book of Strange New Things is a slow burner of a novel. Whilst this wasn’t a book that suited my personal tastes it is well written and would appeal to fans of sci-fi or readers of Faber’s previous novels. This is a story of love, faith and sacrifice that spans the galaxies.