The Book of Strange New Things is my first foray into Faber-land. My wife recommended the novel to me based on a review she had read. She suggested I not read the review, but that I just dive in because it looked like something I might enjoy. She was right.
A couple of caveats before we continue: for my Christian friends whose literary tastes have been shaped by contemporary, best-seller Christian fiction, get ready for a very different read in Faber’s novel. If you are a fan of more mossy Christian fiction – e.g., the likes of Lewis, Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Tolkien, then brace yourself for a much more sober, reflective novel.
In fact, there’s little action to keep you turning pages, until the last 150 pages or so. I almost gave up three times, feeling that the pace was just too slow for me. But the last 150 pages are worth the wait.
The other caveat: there is sexual imagery in the book, though it isn’t voyeuristic. It is fairly graphic, though those scenes are infrequent and brief. More importantly, those scenes function to highlight a natural tension in the plot that would have been difficult to handle with any greater discretion, and still remain true to the central character and his predicament.
Setting and Characters
The setting for most of the novel, Oasis, is no Lewisian Perelandra. The inhabitants of the distant planet where Peter ministers as a Christian missionary pastor are as different from the exquisite Adam and Eve replicants of C. S. Lewis’s pre-fall Venus as one could imagine.
Peter’s adopted world is bleak, and dull. And yet, it is engaging due to the characters who inhabit that flat space. The physical space provides a featureless canvass against which the strange characters emerge as vibrant souls in search of fulfillment.
If you have heard that this is a Christian novel in the usual sense, then you will be disappointed. Contrary to a lot of Christian fiction, this novel is a written with a view to fully rounded characters, whose struggles we witness up very close and very personal. The problems are thorny. The answers – when there are answers – shimmer with an uncertain hope. A hope that may prove, upon arrival, to have been based in nothing but a mirage.
The plot is simple and direct, stark in its simple construction, but with the controversial elegance of an I. M. Pei design. To reveal much of the plot detail at all will spoil the impact of the story.
It’s safe to say it’s a love story – of sorts. But, it’s more of a meditation on the cost of Christian commitment in a foreign – really foreign – environment, than it is an action novel, or even a work of science fiction if you understand those genres in a conventional sense.
Read it – as I did – without knowing any more than what I am revealing here. I believe you are in for a treat – a fine meal that should be enjoyed slowly, even reverently.