I’m a pretty voracious reader – so far this year I’ve read 41 books, and the majority of them have been pretty good. Unfortunately though, up until yesterday, none of the books I’ve read in 2016 have been absolutely fantastic. Michel Faber’s 2014 book, The Book of Strange New Things, however, simply blew my mind.
Supposedly his final book, he wrote it while his wife was dying, and it’s simply one of the most beautiful explorations of love I’ve ever come across. Set sometime in the future, the story follows Peter Leigh, a pastor with a pretty damaged past, as he travels to the planet of Oasis to be a missionary to the planet’s indigenous “people.” As part of the trip, however, he must leave his wife behind on Earth, until he’s completed his post on the foreign planet. What ensues is a remarkably poetic, yet melancholic view of faith and love, and how the two can become strained through distance and challenge.
I’m not a particularly religious person – in fact I identify as an atheist, but even with the huge amounts of faith and scripture in this book it never felt like it was necessarily a religious book, so much as it was a book about people – with the main character himself a man of strong faith (which is challenged as his stay goes on, and he learns of the world he knew falling apart through letters back and forth with his wife).
If you’ve seen the movie ‘Under the Skin‘ you have a bit of an idea of what to expect here. Based on the Faber’s debut (though reportedly a fairly loose adaptation), the movie version (from Jonathan Glazer, starring Scarlet Johannson) was one of my favorites of 2013, even though it received fairly polarizing reviews. It was a challenging film and The Book of Strange New Things is likewise a challenging book. Those looking for a large science fiction plot-driven story will undoubtedly be disappointed – but anyone looking for a cerebral think piece fraught with beauty and anxiety (for example, if you loved Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia,) you’ll find this to be well worth your time.
When I rate or review books I tend to be pretty stingy with anything that I would give a 5/5 to – but The Book of Strange New Things earns it, and just may, in time, make my list of my five favorite books of all time.