Michel Faber has to be one of the most ground-breaking authors of the 21st century. He is widely known for his 2002 book, "The Crimson Petal and the White." Which was also made into a TV miniseries! He has also written many short stories surround this hit book, as well as "Under The Skin," The Fire Gospel," "One Hundred and Nintey Nine Steps," "The Courage Consort" and "The Book of Strange New Things."
"The Book of Strange New Things" was written in 2014 and according to Faber, it may be the last book he ever writes. And boy did I have quite an interesting experience with this book.
Peter is a 33 year old Christian minister, who is chosen by USIC to take a journey to a distant earth-like planet called Oasis. His purpose is to teach the inhabitants about Christianity, the natives or "the Oasians" as they are called, have already gone through 2 previous pastors, both of which disappeared under unknown circumstances. During his stay on Oasis, he gets to know the Oaisans and makes a friend, Alex Grainger, the USIC's pharmacist, "The Oasians" have their own language, and in the text, they are written out in symbol's, clearly so the reader is unable to understand. They also can't use "T"s or S's in their vocabulary, so these symbols substitute the letters for possible reasons to the structure of their vocal chords. This is interesting because we don't know the type of sounds they make, leaving it up to the reader to imagine the noises they make. They are also naturally stoic creatures and are almost genderless that Peter seems to rely on his own intuition to distinguish who's female and who's male.
Also, during Peter's stay, he exchanges messages with his wife back on Earth. While they exchange how much they miss each other and love each other, there is also something darker happening. With every message that Bea sends, it describes something that's been happening back on earth. It starts out small with some certain goods not in stock at the local supermarket, but then it escalates. Bea begins to describe natural disasters creating destruction and death on massive scales, economic discomfort, political decline and violence breaking out in the streets and how hard she is trying to get by without her husband. There is no given explaination to it, but its hinted at why all the people that work for USIC don't seem in a rush to go back home. Peter tries his best to give Bea all the comfort he can while he's away, but he begins to spend time with the Oaisans more and more, and communicating with his wife less and less.
This is where I found myself hating Peter, he seems so dedicated to teaching the Oaisans about God he seems to forget he has a wife sometimes. In the first three chapters of the book, its made very clear that Peter and Bea really love eachother, There is alot of depth given to their relationship throughout the book, talking about how Peter was a drug addict who met Bea who was a nurse in a hospital he was treated at. Upon getting married, he turned his life around and became a Christian minister, and he seems very passionate about it, which seems to work against him. Throughout the first half of the book, Peter attempts to comfort Bea by reminding her to pray to God and other religious advice, something Bea seems to get annoyed with. It all takes a major turn when Bea finally claims to have no more faith and on top of that, she is pregnant with Peter's child.
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The ending of the book was probably the most bitter-sweet-at-the-same-time-emptiest ending I've ever read. Peter finally decides he wants to go back to Earth, which is now dying, to be with his wife and child. However, before he leaves, Bea sends him a message not to return to Earth because it will comfort her to know he is okay, and to make sure he doesn't come back. she is moving house. But Peter, who seems to have lost his faith in God, still chooses to go back. And it really is left up to us to decide whether Peter and Bea reunite or not. This ending was hopeful, but at the same time, it isn't. It made everything Peter was doing seem pointless. He goes to a planet to teach the natives about God and yet he looses his own faith, so what is the whole point of teaching Christianity? And does he ever find his wife? I personelly don't believe he does, but by how he is written, I don't think he ever gave up hope. That's really just my opinion.
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Michel Faber wrote this book at time he was dealing with loosing his wife, Eva, to cancer. This leads me to believe that the deteriorating relationship between Bea and Peter is sort of an allegory to the author loosing his wife. Peter loves Bea, and Bea loves Peter. In the book it's made clear they barely spent long periods of time apart, and the distance, gets between them during Peter's stay on Oasis. As Peter and Bea begin to grow distant, so does Peter and his Christian faith. He constantly tries to remind himself that God has a plan, but he can't bring himself to accept everything that is happening to his wife back on earth, even if it means abandoning his mission.
Many of the other characters were really just there for the background, coming into the spotlight just to show how Peter interacts with the other members of USIC. Alex Grainger gets her own character growth. She starts out like everyone else, seemingly stoic, focused only on her own self-interests and doesn't care much for the Oaisans or Peter's work. As the book progresses, we learn more about Alex and she seems to be a person suppressing her emotions for the sake of everyone around her. When Peter comes along, she seeks comfort with him, and they grow a special bond which sometimes seems romantic.
Actually most of the members of the USIC don't seem to care much about the Oasians, even acknowledging them as freaks, The only other contact the humans and the Oaisans ever make is when they exchange medical supplies for food surplus. The food on Oasis is made solely from a white flower, and its harvested and seasoned to resemble and taste like foods from Earth. It's never explained in full detail and adds a level of mystery to the Oaisans. Even at the end of the book we still know very little about them. What we do know is that they have a very fragile anatomy, anything as simple as a bruise can cause severe damage.
There is alot more I could discuss about the book, but I want you to read it and experience it you're self. This book is very well written, keeps you turning the pages, taps into your emotions and raises a few questions along the way!
But these are just my opinions. Have you read the book? If so, what did you think. Comment below and good luck with midterms.