In which Michel Faber single-handedly attempted to quash, nay exterminate, my love of literature on aliens.
My friend Teresa instigated my re-exploration of Faber’s work following a disappointing attempt with ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’. The Book of Strange New Things, which promised so much with a hefty gazillion pages and alien premise, instead delivered a rather flat note and an underwelming feeling.
The story follows that of Christian preacher Peter Leigh, who travels to the faraway planet of Oasis to be the pastor to a bunch of ugly -looking but benevolent aliens. We follow the story of him integrating with a bunch of settlers and then finding himself alone among the decidedly intelligent indigenous species.
Sure, they have spindly arms and their heads are also their genitals, but they seem rather all right as a species. Many times during the story it’s mentioned that Peter has rather struck gold with this congregation. They are so into God that they call the Bible the ¨book of strange new things¨ and build Peter a temple of his own. Some amusing moments occur when Peter becomes close to some of the members of his congregation, but isn’t entirely sure how to tell them apart. He can’t in fact tell if they are male or female, so decides to make it up himself by naming them ‘Jesus Lover’ and a number.
Redeeming the Book of Strange New Things somewhat and creating some kind of tension throughout the narrative is his connection at home, on Earth. His wife discovers that she is pregnant, and Faber hits the target and manages to convey the feeling that Earth is falling apart through her eyes. I will admit that the bit with the cat (no spoilers) did upset me quite a bit. At times though, her messages to him did come across as whiney and passive-agressive, which was a shame. Perhaps some things do get lost when read?
Despite the deep ethical connundrums that appear throughout the story (Did Peter really abandon his flock? Does God really matter? Will he truly make a difference?)
I’m sure other readers will disagree with me, but the skilled writing didn’t manage to sufficiently hide the ‘pay attention kids, this is the moral of the story!’ parts of the novel. I don’t mind stories about vicars, but reading Faber preaching is definitely not my cup of tea.
This review was written as part of my 1000 books before 30 challenge. Read more about it here.