Magazine article World Literature Today

The Book of Strange New Things

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Book of Strange New Things

Article excerpt

Michel Faber. The Book of Strange New Things. New York. Hogarth / Random House. 2014. isbn 9780553418842

In a 2008 interview occasioned by publication of his novel The Fire Gospel, Michel Faber said, "I think there is that very basic yearning for something or someone to be looking after us, for there to be a framework holding the universe together that is benign and intelligent." This yearning is at the heart of Faber's newest, and reportedly last, novel, a deep inquiry into the nature of religious faith and its durability under extreme conditions.

Peter Leigh is a thirty-three-year-old minister. Once a derelict, thief, and addict, Peter is now a man of God. With his wife, Bea, also a Christian, he lives in England, working as an evangelist.

Peter has been chosen by USIC, a mysterious multinational, to travel to Oasis, a planet "in a foreign solar system, trillions of miles from home," where USIC has established a base. Bea, not chosen, remains behind. So vast a distance separates Peter and Bea that they can communicate only via "the Shoot," USIC technology that transmits text messages-essentially, interstellar email.

The landscape of Oasis is austere, flat, almost barren. The indigenous inhabitants, the Oasans, are humanoid but not human: in their physiology, psychology, and culture, they are wholly alien. To humans they are virtually indistinguishable, their age and gender indeterminate. They seem caring, humble, hardworking . . . impossibly benign, with "no dark side at all." With them USIC has established a kind of barter system: Oasans supply humans food; USIC supplies Oasans medicines. The Oasans demand one thing more: a Christian minister.

At the Oasan settlement Peter finds, unexpectedly and inexplicably, that many of the Oasans are already devout Christians. They press him to preach the "teachings of Jesus," to read from the Bible, which they call "The Book of Strange New Things," to "read and read and read until we understand."

As Peter's obsession with the Oasans grows, he grows more distant emotionally from his wife. Ultimately, this trajectory leads both Peter and Bea to question the existence and efficacy of God.

Predominant among Faber's concerns is communication. …

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