Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Book of Strange New Things

Title:  The Book of Strange New Things
Author:  Michel Faber
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2014. 512 pages.
ISBN:  055341884X / 978-0553418842

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness!

Favorite Quote:  "I miss you. I miss living through the visible moments of life with you."

The title - The Book of Strange New Things - is a reference to the Bible. Peter and his wife Bea are people of faith and spend their lives bringing word of their faith to others. Peter gets the opportunity to travel to a land far away - light years aways, galaxies away - on a mission. He leaves Bea on Earth and goes on this mission to a place called the Oasis. He proceeds with his mission of bringing his faith to the Oasans, the aliens native to the Oasis. To the Oasans, the Bible is the book of strange new things.

The story follows his life on the Oasis, but includes the correspondence between Peter and Bea, who remains on earth. Peter's work proceeds with new and strange experiences every day - some better than he could ever have hoped. At the same time, things on Earth deteriorate. Calamities upon calamities begin to occur. Bea's struggle to survive becomes more and more precarious. The physical distance between Peter and Bea is there. The emotional distance becomes greater and greater as they face totally different worlds and situations. This pattern pretty much continues for the over five hundred pages of the book.

The story focuses primarily on Peter. We hear of Bea - character and situation - only through her correspondence with Peter. I actually find her the more intriguing character and her story the more interesting one. At one point, Bea describes Peter as "an innocent little kid at heart." He comes across more selfish than innocent and pretty unlikable. I do wish the book had included more of Bea's perspective and story.

Physically, this book looks beautiful and is definitely indicative of the Biblical references. The sides are gold-edged, perhaps a nod to the printing of sacred texts. The cover art of the two hands reaching is reminiscent of Michelangelo's painting Creation of Man. This painting is part of the mural on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It depicts the Biblical story of creation from the Book of Genesis.

The back cover reads simply, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." This statement is found in the Bible, Matthew 28:20. In the context of this book, the phrase of course describes Peter's religious message. It can also be used in the very human context of Peter and Bea's relationship. This is the first time in their married life that they have been separated in this manner. Can they be the support for each other even as they are so far apart?

The Book of Strange Things is aptly named as it includes many strange descriptions. An awkward coupling in the back seat of a car in the first ten pages. People referred to repeatedly by the color of their skin or ethnicity. Disparaging comments about different ethnic backgrounds. Repeated descriptions of and references to physical needs, from hygiene habits to sexual issues. Alien described as fetus-faced. The details of the book are not just strange but also unpleasant. So much so that they detract from the story itself and make the book very hard to keep reading.

The length of the book, the ending, and the unpleasant descriptions all make this an unpalatable read for me and leave me wondering why? What was the point?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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