Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review of The Book of Strange New Things

Book #34. The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. Unabridged audio.

I loved the concept of this novel as soon as I heard it, but I confess I was worried. The cynic in me assumed how the story would go, and how it would end.

The premise is that in the near future (from what I can tell; I don’t recall a specific year ever being given), an English pastor is called trillions of miles into space to bring Jesus’ Gospel to the alien natives of a distant planet. It turns out that the priest, Peter Leigh, is in fact the second pastor to these people, who he names Oasans. He is shocked when his congregation welcomes him with a rousing if barely intelligible version of “Amazing Grace.” They want him to teach from his Bible, which they refer to as the “book of strange new things.”

The priest was invited to this missionary work, but his wife oddly was not. She stays behind with their cat, and learns shortly after her husband leaves that she is pregnant. Through her long-distance emails, Peter learns that in his time away, Earth has been subject to events that seem vaguely apocalyptic. Her faith wavers, both in her husband and in their God.

I have read plenty of novels from evangelical authors, from evangelical publishing houses, and if this were one of those, I could predict every beat of the certain happy ending. But this is a story from a mainstream publisher, and I admit that I assumed by the end of the novel, the preacher would have lost his faith, his marriage, and his congregation. But the story in fact was much more complicated than that, much more nuanced. And that pleased me.

I plan to write more about the way that the missionary’s work, life, and family are portrayed on the From Dorkness to Light blog.

This is the author’s sixth published novel, and the 55-year-old announced that he would retire from fiction, this novel standing as his last. If he chooses to come back to the world of fiction, I’d be interested in reading what he writes next. If this part of his career ends with this novel, this is not a bad way to go out.

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