The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Peter, a man of faith, is sent on a mission to share the Bible and its teachings with an alien race of beings. Beatrice, his wife, must stay behind in a world that is rapidly unravelling. This is, in part, an epistolary novel: Peter and Bea’s only communication is via the Shoot (a kind of interplanetary email exchange), and as the world hurtles through cataclysm after cataclysm their love, along with everything they’ve known and believed, is challenged.
With a page count to match The Crimson Petal and the White and an alien strangeness to rival Under the Skin, Michel Faber’s latest and long-awaited novel (his first in twelve years) offers the reader an extended stay in a world so weird and discomforting yet so beautiful and exquisitely written that you don’t want the book to end. Michel Faber writes with an astonishing sensitivity and precision that is breathtaking at times.
It’s in the details that Faber ensnares his reader, in the complexities of the relationships and the cracking dialogue between characters. He explores a new language throughout the book, creating variations on English through symbols denoting alien sounds. ‘Where the s’s should have been, there was a noise like a ripe fruit being thumbed into two halves.’
This book reaches beyond genres to tell a truly original and imaginative tale that delves deeply into themes of faith, love, humanity and death. Faber does strange so well and this novel is certainly that: there is an eeriness that creeps beneath the words, which never quite leaves you. The Book of Strange New Things is a very different beast to The Crimson Petal and the White and it is nothing short of luminous.
Deborah Crabtree is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.