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The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel Paperback – June 30, 2015
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“Defiantly unclassifiable. . . . The Book of Strange New Things squeezes its genre ingredients to yield a meditation on suffering, love and the origins of religious faith. . . . Faber reminds us there is a literature of enchantment, which invites the reader to participate in the not-real in order to wake from a dream of reality to the ineffability, strangeness, and brevity of life on Earth.” —Marcel Theroux, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“Provocative, unsettling.” —People
“Profoundly moving. . . . . A vivid portrait of a distant galaxy, reinforced by a narrative that is deeply, emotionally evocative.” —USA Today
“Elegant. . . . A lovely, thought-provoking meditation on love and faith and the never-ending mysteries of the natural world.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Eerie and ambitious. . . . Faber is a genuinely gifted storyteller and his novel gains resonance and tidal force in its final third.” —The New York Times
“Faber illustrates, movingly, the impossibility of adequate communication in the face of life-changing experience. . . . Rich and memorable.” —The New Yorker
“The Book of Strange New Things will blow you away…Powerful… Even beyond its power as a story of cross-cultural encounters, and the questions it makes you ask about the place of humanity in the universe, Book of Strange New Things is also worth reading as a great personal story of a man and his wife, as their relationship faces the ultimate test..Fantastic.”—io9.com
“Fascinating…Poignant…Remarkable… Despite its bizarre setting and all the elements of an interplanetary opera, this is a novel of profound spiritual intimacy…. I relished every chance to cloister myself away with “The Book of Strange New Things”…[It] offers exactly what I crave: a state of mingled familiarity and alienness that leaves us with questions we can’t answer — or forget.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post
“One of the best books I’ve ever read. . . . It’s a love story, and the last line destroyed me.” —Emily St. John Mandel, The Millions
“Faber's great strength, trotted out right from the opening pages — this ability to write believable, lovely, flawed and inept characters. To animate his creations by exposing their great loves and human frailties, and to make us want, somehow, to follow along behind them…Faber tells a beautifully human story of love, loss, faith and the sometimes uncrossable distances between people.”—NPR.org, “All Things Considered”
“Harrowing, wrenching. . . . A bold and unexpected work of beauty. . . . Faber’s sincerity keeps The Book of Strange New Things honest, and his talent steers him away from cliché.” —The New Republic
“A wonderful adventure story, a quasi-science fiction tale and a probing examination of a marriage. . . . A truly strange and wonderful novel. . . . Please read Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. You won't regret it.”—Cleveland Plain-Dealer
“[A] masterpiece” —Cosmopolitan
“I would almost like to say, ‘Read this book,’ and leave it with that. Because its charms, and they are considerable, are so tied with discovering what the heck is going on. That challenges a reviewer, because almost anything I tell you will spoil a moment of discovery…the writing is such a pleasure.”—Dallas Morning News
“A bracing, rewarding read.”—Kansas City Star
“[Faber] approaches this interplanetary saga as an expert genre traveler. . . . [His] potent new amalgam of sci-fi and spirituality puts him within rocket range of David Mitchell.” —New York
“Intergalactic in scope.” —Reuters
“This is a big novel . . . but the reader is pulled through it at some pace by the gothic sense of anxiety that pervades and taints every element. . . . Astonishing and deeply affecting.” —The Guardian
“A novel so full of ideas, so charged by plot, so odd and wonderful, and written with astonishing emotional precision. There are some novels that come along every now and again, 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. Michel Faber always has had an astonishing ability to make the strange believable and the alien real, but in this thoughtful, deeply moving page-turner, he excels himself.” —The Scotsman
“A hugely serious story about the testing of religious faith. . . . When [Peter’s] spiritual crisis does indeed hit it is as gripping as any thriller. . . . A work of originality and insight.” —The Times
“A moving human drama disguised as a gripping science fiction tale. . . . Magnificently bold and addictive. . . . A book quite unlike any other I've ever read.” —The Sunday Times
“Faber’s new novel grapples with [what it means to be human] in unusually direct terms. . . . The fascination of [his] prose style is its lack of sensationalism. His voice on the page is serene and oddly innocent. . . . One might call The Book of Strange New Things sci-fi, speculative fiction, literary fiction—or maybe just welcome it, thankfully, with a ‘Never before now.’” —The Independent (UK)
“Contemporary literary fiction rarely provides a Victorian-length magical mystery tour along the trail of breathtaking narrative…[yet] Michel Faber’s vast new storytelling extravaganza, The Book of Strange New Things, is that kind of novel. It embodies a wondrous and sorrowful experience you don’t just read, but live.”—Toronto Star
“Spellbinding, heartbreaking and mind-bending. . . . This is very much a book that rewards re-reading; its subtle echoes and wisps of allusion reverberate across the text. . . . The Book Of Strange New Things is Faber’s strongest, most plangent and most intellectually gleeful novel. It is affecting as much as it is challenging. . . . Bold, brave, brilliant. . . . It’s also, by the way, the most wonderful love story.” —Scottish Review of Books
“Brilliant, and disquieting. . . . Faber’s novel is entirely true to itself and wonderfully original. It makes a fine update to Walter M. Miller Jr.’s Canticle for Leibowitz, with some Marilynne Robinson-like homespun theology thrown in for good measure. . . . A profoundly religious exploration of inner turmoil.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“A marvelously creative and intricate novel, thought-provoking and arresting.” —Booklist
“A monumental, genre-defying novel over ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents.”—Book Browse, Selected as a Top Book of 2014
“The book wears its strong premise and mixture of Biblical and SF tropes extremely well.”—Publishers Weekly
“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
“In my opinion The Book of Strange New Things is 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. It is vibrant with wit and overcast with prescience and social commentary. Like all superlative science fiction, its real subject is that most mystifying of alien species, humanity. I didn’t so much read The Book of Strange New Things as inhabit it, the way you inhabited that handful of books which, as a kid, first got you hooked on this wonderful drug known as reading.” —David Mitchell
“Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things certainly lives up to its title. Faber, as he showed in Under the Skin, does strangeness brilliantly. I can’t remember being so continually and unfailingly surprised by any book for a long time, and part of the surprise is the tenderness and delicacy with which he shows an emotional relationship developing in one direction while withering in another. I found it completely compelling and believable, and admired it enormously.” —Philip Pullman
“Weird and disturbing, like any work of genius, this novel haunted me for the seven nights I spent reading it, and haunts me still. A story of faith that will mesmerize believers and non-believers alike, a story of love in the face of the Apocalypse, a story of humanity set in an alien world—The Book of Strange New Things is desperately beautiful, sad, and unforgettable.” —David Benioff
“Intriguing…both painful and compelling. And when you find out the answers to some of the novel's central mysteries . . . Well, I won't give anything away, but the answers pack a punch.”—Rick Riordan
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Plot wise, Peter's wife Beatrice seems to be hinting in her letters that the earth is about to be destroyed, which in my opinion clearly should have happened BEFORE Peter left the earth so that the rest of the universe wouldn't have to suffer through his boring commentary. I've just reached the part where Peter finally meets the aliens (pg 122/584) and somehow these beings from another galaxy have already been half converted to Christianity before 'PePer', seemingly the only Christian on the entire planet, even introduces himself. The Evangelical Christian themes are so heavy handed that I might as well have paid $13 for the author to slap me repeatedly with a bible, which really would have been preferable to finishing this book.
I can only hope that there's a plot twist at the end where the aliens disembowel Peter and sacrifice him to some fetus-faced Elder God, because that's the only real way to save the story at this point.
My biggest complaint about this book is that the middle feels bloated with a lot of unnecessary chapters about the Oasans. I watched the videos of Michel's commentary on the book and none of them have anything to do with the Oasans. I'm really not sure why he wrote so much about them if they weren't even significant to the author. I really did not enjoy the chapters where Peter was living with them. I don't think they added nothing to the story, but I don't think they added enough to justify their length.
What I absolutely loved was the correspondence between Bea and Peter. Her letters were filled with terrifying happenings around the world, the Maldives are wiped out, a volcano erupts and turns an entire city into a mass grave, they get worse and worse as time goes on.
How does Peter respond? By telling Bea- "I can't relate to this. I don't know how to respond when you tell me these things."
Peter you idiot.
He tries later to retract these statements saying "Please tell me anything you want" but it's too late and the damage is done.
I think the real genius in this novel is the way Faber highlights the many differences in the way men and women communicate. I connected to and related to Bea in so many ways. I could recall so many times where my own relationships have been hung up on these exact differences and issues.
Here's a hint guys: Sometimes, women just want someone to LISTEN. We don't need your commentary. We don't need you to tell us "It's going to be okay." Give us more credit. We are tougher than that. But we like to be heard. If you resort to telling us you can't relate and you don't want to hear about it--- You Have Failed.
This book is heavy on Christianity, and it's depiction and meaning applied to the universe as a whole, rather than just Earth, really raises some interesting questions. The Oasans know nothing of sheep, shepherds, etc. How do you translate a book in which so many things have no relatable counterpart? How do you decipher the metaphors to a people who speak strictly literally? Is the Bible a book that can even have any meaning beyond Earth? Their revelation on the Technique of Jesus was a fairly profound observation and I sincerely enjoyed the questions it posed. They will stick with me for a long time to come.
Ultimately, it took me a while to put all the pieces together. The middle was really slow and I did almost give up, but I'm happy I finished. I'm giving it a 3, but I can at least see why this has been called a "masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents". I might check out other works by Faber in the future (preferably shorter ones).
Top international reviews
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.
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.
Still, Faber, as always, writes beautifully and the novel is still an engaging novel of ideas.
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.
The story is about Peter, a Christian missionary who chooses to leave his wife - at first I thought he was leaving her permanently but then later on I realised he was planning on returning from his destination some months later. The destination planet is called Oasis and it is inhabited by other people from Earth as well as the aliens who live on the planet and whom Peter refers to as "Oasans". Where the planet is, and how Peter manages to travel so far in such a short time, is never fully explained, but I guess some kind of time warp is hinted at because the journey is called "the jump" and it makes travellers feel very ill for a time after arrival on Oasis.
Faber spends an awful lot of time describing the Oasans and the surroundings, which are outlandish and uber-ordinary by turns. The Oasans' faces, for example, are compared to a pair of foetuses nestling knee to knee, in one of the more memorable descriptive passages early in the book.
Peter writes to his wife on the computer and she can reply, though pictures and photos cannot be sent between them. In this way Faber uses their correspondence to map Peter's emotional journey as he attempts to take God to the Oasans. Inexplicably, they profess themselves Jesus lovers and indeed their names are Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Five, and so on. Peter then discovers that the aliens have already had contact with another pastor and seem to have taken Christianity on board in a totally child like and naïve way. They don't seem to have many human foibles. They don't seem to get angry, or express sadness or resentment, and they don't seem to live in the past or the future, but seem to accept what life brings them in a way that Peter seems perhaps to envy.
At the same time as all this is going on, Peter's wife Beatrice, a nurse, writes to him about the seeming approach of the end of the world - earthquakes, natural disasters and the consequences like supermarket crashes and so on. Then she gives him a piece of news he really isn't expecting.
Peter's struggles to help the Oasans are counterpointed by his distress at knowing what his wife is coping with alone on Earth. He misses her. At times he appears to be attracted to one of the Oasans and also to Grainger, the human on Oasis who has been charged with looking out for him.
The weather and the buildings on Oasis, and the aliens themselves, are carefully described. In fact, at times there was so much description that I thought some of it could've been edited out. However, I did think the most thought provoking bit of the book was in looking at the aliens and their unquestioning acceptance of Christianity. It all seems so easy to them. I wondered if the writer was making a point about us, here on Earth, and what a mess we have made of things.
I am sure I heard Faber say on the radio that he doesn't believe in God and so I found his decision to write about a missionary interesting. At times, I didn't think Bea's responses to Peter's messages were realistic, but the whole exploration of what God might mean to a people who seem never to have fought or become angry with each other was absorbing.
All in all I am glad I read the book, and it is very good in parts. In my opinion, it is more fantasy than science fiction, because there isn't a lot of science in it. It's never fully explained how people can breathe the Oasan air - or why the rain tastes of watermelon, and that's why I feel it is more a fantasy novel than true Sci-fi. Still, an enjoyable and absorbing read.
Although Peter is a preacher, and religion and Christianity are part of the narrative, this is not a religious book but one about faith, and loss of faith. It's also about love and yearning. It's a wonderful and beautifully written novel and has that rare ability to stay in your head long after you've finished reading it.
It pleasingly avoids setting anyone up as a villain or a complete victim, and builds to an interesting finish.
The prose was more artless than I expected. I'm not familiar with Faber's other writing so I don't know if this was a deliberate choice, but it detracted a bit from my enjoyment of the story.
I also felt that the various terrestrial disasters referred to in the story had a bit of a top-of-the-head quality about them, and as a result I was not really convinced or disturbed by the idea that the world was falling apart.
But the book kept me hooked throughout. A good read.