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The Book of Strange New Things Hardcover – 23 Oct 2014
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"Michel Faber's second masterpiece, quite different to The Crimson Petal and The White but every bit as luminescent and memorable. It is a portrait of a living, breathing relationship, frayed by distance. It is an enquiry into the mountains faith can move and the mountains faith can't move. It is maniacally gripping" (DAVID MITCHELL)
"As gripping as any thriller . . . A work of originality and insight" (Andrew Billen The Times)
"There are some novels that come along, when writing a review seems superfluous and all one wants to do is to grab someone by the shoulders and say: "Look, just read the damn thing!". This is one of them . . . In this thoughtful, deeply moving page-turner, Faber excels himself" (Scotsman)
"Magnificently bold and addictive . . . a book quite unlike any other I've read" (Edmund Gordon Sunday Times)
"I can't remember being so continually and unfailingly surprised by any book for a long time. I found it completely compelling and believable, and admired it enormously" (PHILIP PULLMAN)
Highly imaginative, unusual and thought-provoking" (Katherine Whitbourn Daily Mail)
"Michel Faber is a truly gifted writer, an addictive storyteller with an nuanced command of language. One of the best things I have read this year" (Literary Review)
"The very notion of what it means to be human is grappled with in unusually direct terms . . . richly suggestive" (Hannah McGill Independent)
"Spellbinding, heartbreaking and mind-bending . . . Faber's strongest, most plangent and most intellectually gleeful novel. It is affecting as much as it is challenging. It not only made me want to read his next book, but re-read his backlist immediately" (Scottish Review of Books)
"At the heart of The Book of Strange New Things is one question: Whom - or what - do you love, and what are you willing to do for that love (or not willing)? The result is a novel of marvel and wonderment with a narrative engine like a locomotive" (YANN MARTEL)
An all-out masterpiece from the author of The Crimson Petal and the White and Under the SkinSee all Product description
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Faber is the guy who wrote Under The Skin which I haven’t read but thought the film was the best thing I had seen in years. This is equally if not more imaginative. It’s an unlikely tale about a Christian priest who is sent from England to a base on a remote planet in another galaxy to provide Christian guidance to the aliens, the Oasins. USIC, a multi-national corporation have a base there the purpose of which is unclear.
So those are the basic ingredients but also in the mix is his wife, left behind to cope on her own with drastic climate change, civil unrest and dislocation; they have never been separated before and both find the separation unbelievably stressful. Him because he is unable to communicate his daily concerns which seem trivial to her when set against the earthquakes and tsunamis that she is experiencing. Her because she has to cope on her own. As the narrative unfolds, they become increasingly alienated from one another.
It is such a bold concept and in a lesser writers hands might have just been added to the pile of science-fiction novels started but never finished but Faber meticulously adds layers of detail which utterly and completely bring this world and this situation, of separation powerfully and realistically to near-believability.
Jeez I loved this book. But, but there are one and two-star reviews on Amazon. Incredible. I think they wanted a different book, not the one Faber has actually written.
The central character is Peter Leigh, an English pastor with an unconventional background ("I went to the University of Hard Drinking and Drug Abuse") and a non-denominational approach to Christianity. He is selected by an opaque organisation called USIC to travel through "the physics-defying technology of the Jump" to a planet called Oasis and minister to the local Oasans known only as Jesus Lover One, Two, Three ... Peter leaves behind his wife Bea, with whom he communicates (poorly) through a device known as the Shoot, as she faces a world increasingly struck by disasters both natural and human, and he becomes increasingly close to the (female) USIC pharmacist Grainger who is very different from her emotionally-restrained colleagues.
The longer Peter moves between the USIC base and the Oasan community, the more he becomes quietly disoriented. And the further the reader works through the novel, the more one wonders what it is really about. The eponymous "Book" is in fact the Bible and, if that is strange, then so is this work. It is long (almost 600 pages) and the narrative proceeds languildy with very little actually happening, but it is an easy and rather seductive read. At the end of it, though, I'm left wondering if it really deserved the critical praise that it has received and whether it isn't too insubstantial. This is Faber's sixth novel and he has suggested it will be his last. I can live with that.
I would not say it is was science fiction exactly. It does not have the abstract themes of a sci-fi.
I would count it more as the personal thoughts of a traditional missionary, far from his wife, but for Africa read Another Strange World..
The world he writes home to is still very much 'our' world and the topic of Islam and the world traumas his wife sees are mentioned frequently as they are on Earth now. So present day almost.
As SF it's clunky and seems to lack any real connection with what is going on in current writing; as literary fiction it works better, but the concept of central character Peter being 'alien'-ated from his fellow humans and his (literally) distant wife is trite at best. And as to the religious element...
It is notable that the approving plaudits printed on the cover are all either from similarly-minded quasi-SF/fantasy writers like David Mitchell or broadsheet literary reviewers, so we know where this book is being marketed. Bear in mind that it 'is' possible to pull off the synthesis of literary SF with an examination of morality and religious belief: just search out the extraordinary 'The Sparrow' by Mary Doria Russell to have your world-view stretched and tested.
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