The premise of Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is an interesting one: send a married pastor of a church in England to another planet to become the spiritual father to a colony set up by a private corporation as well as the missionary to the colony of native creatures that live on that planet. And leave his wife behind. Then, while he is seemingly going through the easiest time of his life ministering to the natives of that planet, let everything fall apart for the wife back home (natural disasters, robberies, riots, death of the family pet, etc.).
While the protagonist is a pastor, the book isn’t really about faith. The central theme of the novel is the survival of a marriage despite distance, hardship, and trial. Faber does a terrific job of weaving a narrative that involves tragedy, extra-terrestrials, and outer space without turning it into a bizarre, kitsch, sci-fi novel. The story is a poignant, emotional with an ending that leaves the reader to decide how things work out for the characters because Faber does not tie the end up with a neat bow.
There are other themes which Faber could have touched on, such as: do aliens have souls?; is colonization of another place possible without the natives being resentful?; or what happens to one’s missionary work that first time that the answer to prayer is not “yes?”; etc. The novel touches on these themes, but just like the ending, the reader is not provided a clear thought on the issue.
Ultimately, The Book of Strange New Things is the type of book I would see enjoyed best by someone who’s been married for a few years. The theme and topics contain subtle nuances which a married person would pick up on. Just don’t expect a neat finale to Faber’s last novel.
I received my copy of this book for free through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for posting a review of the book. I was not obligated to post a positive review; the opinions expressed are my own.