Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Michel Faber: From Victorian prostitutes to Christian missionaries in space

(Note: I received a free review copy of this book from Amazon Vine)

I read this book more than a month ago, but I'm posting my review today in honour of its official release date. I'm excited to see what everyone else thinks of the book. I suspect that you'll either love it or hate it, and I'm definitely on the love side. I was very sad to see that, following the death of his wife, Faber plans to stop writing novels.

Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

I really enjoyed Faber's earlier novel The Crimson Petal and the White so I was excited to see that he'd written another one. The premise was also intriguing: a Christian missionary travels to another planet to work with the native population there, while receiving updates from his wife about the increasingly apocalyptic conditions back home on earth. The book interweaves the story of Peter's missionary work among the aliens with the story of his increasingly strained relationship with his wife, which suffers from the vast distance between them and the enormous difference in their circumstances.

There are some themes here that I don't normally find very compelling, namely issues of faith and marital difficulties. But I found myself completely absorbed in Faber's creation, tearing through this hefty volume in a matter of days. The characters all felt very real to me, with vivid personalities and abundant flaws. There were times when I would have liked more detail about certain events, particularly Peter's early days among the natives, but ultimately the book as a whole comes together very well. Various mysteries are satisfactorily resolved. The only aspect of the story that I found somewhat unsatisfying was its open-endedness; there are hints about how everything may turn out, but we don't actually see it all through to the end. I can understand why Faber stopped where he did; important decisions have been made and events have been put in motion, so that it might actually have been anticlimactic to pursue each thread down to its final resolution. I just wasn't quite ready to leave this story yet, which might speak as much to its power as to anything else.

A word of warning: despite the central role of faith, this is definitely not what I would classify as "Christian fiction". It opens with a sex scene and contains plenty of profanity, along with descriptions of bodily functions, masturbation, etc. This is the sort of content that could have come across as gratuitous, but instead it adds an element of gritty realism. The religious message is also not entirely unwavering, which I appreciated as a non-Christian reader.

I'd like to say more about the plot and the various issues that arise in the course of Peter's mission, but I think it's best to approach the story without too much prior information and just allow yourself to get caught up in the flow. There are plenty of surprising elements here whose impact might be diminished by reading about them beforehand. Peter sets off on a journey into the unknown, and I'm very glad that I had an opportunity to travel along with him. I just wish I could do a better job of explaining I liked this book so much; it's a powerful novel whose impact I can't seem to express in words. Reading it was a fully immersive experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment