‘The Book of Strange New Things’ by Michel Faber – A Test of Love and Faith

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Peter is a Christian, a Priest and a Husband (in no particular order). However, things weren’t always so cut and dried. Growing up with a rocky home life and later getting involved in drugs, crime, alcohol and becoming homeless, Peter was in great need of change. Luckily, he met loving nurse, Bea, who tended him when he was hospitalised with two broken ankles after attempting to escape the police.

They married and lived happily, with their cat, Joshua, helping others in their community and spreading the word of God… until Peter is whisked away to another planet to enlighten a new race entirely.

The Book of Strange New Things takes many unexpected turns. Faber at first presents an England that is not unlike our own, but steadily we realise that we are somewhere in our not-too-distant future; a future in which Earth is falling apart – politically, socially, geographically – and when life has been found on another planet. Could this planet be our saviour?

Peter is rocketed away from Earth, regrettably leaving his wife alone, to work as a missionary and teach the natives of Oasis about God. His arrival is, to say the least, a culture shock. The environment is like nothing he’s ever seen; the rain falls as no earthly rain would fall, the days and nights are far longer, the humidity is all encompassing, the food is curious. Though imagining that he would have great difficulty preaching to such an alien choir – whose physical appearance takes some adjusting to – he is pleased to find that the linguistic and religious work done by the two men before him, have set him up with a loyal base of ‘Jesus Lovers.’ He comes to greatly enjoy his time with the Oasians, their placid nature something entirely different from most of the engineers and scientists who are at the base. As time passes and he becomes more comfortable with the Oasians, Peter is at risk of losing himself and detaching from reality as the two men before him, who mysteriously disappeared, had done.

It turns out that the most challenging problem he would face was in fact at home. Able to sporadically communicate via an email-like system, Bea feeds him the terrors of home life and the stress she is living through, alone; their home is falling apart after a storm, Joshua is panicked, there is a lack of food, there are earthquakes devastating places across the world… It goes on. But what can Peter do when he is so far from her, and from Earth? A gulf grows between the once unshakeable couple and this story evolves into test of Love and Faith as both Peter and Bea question their Christianity and their relationship.

This book is a compelling read, well written, with some very interesting, ambitious ideas grounded in a subject that we can all connect to; love.

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