The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber is by far one of the BEST books I have read recently. Granted I am a HUGE Faber fan. Under the Skin is one of my favorite books of all time despite the self-important, very confusing recent film version. He is also the author of The Crimson and the Petal White which was quite good despite its salacious television adaption.
Alert -slight spoiler: The book takes place in the near future and is about a missionary sent to an outer planetary outpost at the request of the planet’s original inhabitants (I loathe to call them aliens because this is not really a Sci-Fi book). The hero throws himself whole heartedly into his proselytizing role, immersing himself in their culture and taking great delight in their conversion and belief. The congregant’s interpretations of the bible and human behavior in general is expressed with naïve childlike simplicity. Hence the title – the bible is The Book of Strange New Things. The publisher cleverly edged the hard cover edition pages in gold making it look like a sacred volume. Alert-Spoiler: Typographical symbols have replaced certain letters because the aliens cannot pronounce some of sounds. Brilliant! End spoiler. The religious element in this book is just the vehicle that gets the hero interacting with the planet’s inhabitants. Faber’s description of the other worldliness of this alien planet is so seductively subtle that all of a sudden you find yourself immersed in the hero’s contemplative life surrounded by his congregation of serene beings. I hated putting this book down!
While our hero is busy converting the aliens, life on earth is falling apart – his infrequent contact with his wife on earth is the only glimpse we get at what seems like Armageddon. It was only after I read it that I learned that Faber wrote it while his wife was dying and in fact finished it by her bedside. She did not live to see the publication of his book and as a result he is retiring from writing. I was so sad to hear this but now understand that The Book of Strange New Things is ultimately a bittersweet farewell to his wife.