Part of me was hesitant to give this 5 stars. I try to be stingy with how many I give out, but when I thought about it, I’d never really read anything like The Book of Strange New Things.
I consider myself agnostic, leaning towards atheism, and I have a dislike for organised religion. So picking up a book about a Christian preacher who goes to an alien planet as a missionary was wholly driven by my need for science-fiction. But, as it went on, the book became a very interesting exploration into the meaning of personal belief to an individual, and how this extends past our humanity.
On the backdrop of a failing world, relayed by messages from his wife, the subtlety of the novel is wonderful. It is merely a man trying to teach the mysterious Oasans Christianity, and his struggles with his travel and position on the planet. With a handful of other characters and the odd Oasans, the novel’s hefty length of nearly 600 pages goes by with relative simplicity, but immense interest.
The mental development of Peter, the Christian preacher, and his relationship with his wife back on Earth occurs simultaneously to the increasing understanding of the alien race that seemingly only want a preacher. The content is both familiar and fantastical. Combined with the backdrop of a failing earth, so far away, the context of what it means to be part of society is continually questioned.
The writing is smooth, and elegant, and the book seems to ebb and flow while questioning the complex ideas of religion, belief and our understanding of other species and humanity.
Ultimately, this book is a fascinating story that I don’t think I have ever seen before. As someone not particularly enamored by religion, Michel Faber presents such a wonderful story and a wonderful set of characters.
THINGS I LOVED: the subtlety, the cover (probably the prettiest cover I own)
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE: the odd symbols got a bit confusing