Monday, February 9, 2015

Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

From Goodreads:
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. 
It's only February, but I'm going to be hard pressed to find a book with better writing this year.  It has Julie's favorite book of 2015 written all over it.  Literary?  Very.  But also?  Science fiction.  And the end of planet Earth as we know it.  And Christianity.  Basically all of the things that I find most interesting.  I'm kind of astonished that it hasn't won all of the awards available to win because it is just stunning.  It's not fast-paced, despite the science fiction/apocalypse elements that are there.  It's much more about characters, emotions, and relationships than it is about plot.  But it's done so beautifully that you won't be bored for a moment - I couldn't stop reading once I got started.

Entertainment Value
Again, I found it hard to put down.  Between Bea's experiences on Earth, as they are related to Peter in emails, and Peter's own experiences with the Oasans, the book is packed full of characterization and an exploration of faith across multiple dimensions.  As a Christian, I found the author's depiction of Christianity refreshingly respectful, even as it tackles the hard realities of life that can cause a person to lose their faith.  The spiritual issues tackled in the book range from how a marriage is affected as one partner loses his or her faith to how Christianity would function on a planet that had never seen an incarnate Christ.

While I found the book to be astonishingly spiritually relevant to my own life and while I felt like I had a very spiritual experience while reading it, I don't think readers should limit themselves by avoiding it because of the religious aspect.  The author himself is an atheist and, although he portrays religion sympathetically, he also acknowledges the problems faced by those who don't belief or who lose their beliefs.  And Peter and Bea's relationship, as it evolves, is something that anyone who has ever deeply loved another person will identify with.

In short, you must read this book immediately.  And then call me to discuss it.  Or text me or send smoke signals or whatever.  It's absolutely amazing and worth the time and effort it takes to read something a bit more heavy on the literary and light on the action.  If nothing else, read it to appreciate beautiful writing.

A major thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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