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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Genre: Science Fiction; Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 28 October 2014
Source: Purchased

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“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, Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos.”

My Thoughts: Back in 2014, I received an e-galley of Book of Strange New Things for review. I made it less than 25 pages before giving up on it due to the near constant evangelizing and professions of God’s will. I may not have many limits on what I read, but I tend to draw the line at Christian fiction. I have read it in the past and find that it is just not for me. Therefore, I opted to bypass Mr. Faber’s novel with little guilt. At the time.

However, then it started receiving positive reviews and started making it onto Best of lists for 2014. As with any novel I do not finish, there was a real FOMO that existed, and I began to question having given up on the novel so soon. Apparently, if these lists and reviews were any indication, I missed out on reading a great novel. As with anything I want to re-read, I chose to give it a second chance via audiobook. After all, since reading it in print did not work for me the first time, perhaps a different medium work work better for me.

That is the backstory on how I found myself listening to this odd and long tale about love and distance, the end of one world and the beginning of a new one. I am sad to say that my initial assessment of the novel was correct. This novel, with its lengthy and numerous discussions of faith, is not my cup of tea.

If you take out the evangelizing, the story is actually quite lovely. Peter’s experiences on Oasis combined with the travails upon Earth, the growing discord between husband and wife, the mysterious mission of USIC all create a fascinating study of human nature and its sometimes opposing quest for love and survival. Mr. Faber’s descriptions are exacting and intense, so much so that it seems impossible that Oasis does not actually exist. You feel as if you are there with Peter as he navigates the foreign world and climate.

Yet, there is just too much talk about God, following Christ, accepting Christ, stories about the Bible, and other evangelizing for me to have ever become truly immersed in the story. Peter even becomes a bit too smug in his faith, making it easy for me to see why Bea takes him to task while her world begins to fail. Such talk is fine in church but not something I want to read in my novels.

I was interested enough in Book of Strange New Things to want to finish the story. This speaks volumes about the story itself that it was interesting enough to make me want to push through the parts I had no interest in hearing. Mr. Faber certainly has a way with words, and I wanted to learn everything I could about his strange new world. There was just a bit too much about the book of strange new things and Jesus lovers for me to have thoroughly enjoyed it.

About the Audio: Josh Cohen does an admirable job narrating this complex story. Mastering its rather large and diverse cast as he does would be enough to warrant praise. However, Mr. Cohen has the added difficulty of vocalizing the aliens and their inability to pronounce anything with sibilance. He does so admirably. What’s more is that he is able to add a hint of personality into these beings which seemingly have none. His performance does more to humanize the aliens than anything Peter says about them. While I may not have enjoyed the story, the only reason I was able to continue listening to it is because of Mr. Cohen’s narration.

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