Summary

Read on, and get bored witless, as a bloke goes to an alien planet where everything is boring. Meanwhile his wife goes through hell on Earth and starts to resents his cave time.

Written by
Michel Faber in 2015

Sometimes, I wonder why some things exist. Tonsils, for example. The appendices we’re all born with that can cause an infection for no good reason. Or Donald Trump. It’s stuff like this that serves no real good purpose that I sadly have to lump The Book of Strange New Things into, because the title is so misleading. Why, do you ask?

The Book of Strange New Things is about Peter, a reformed drug addict and petty criminal who manages to score an all expenses paid trip to an extrasolar planet to do his work of spreading the word of The Bible. The planet he’s going to is already inhabited by natives, aliens with their own culture and what not, who call The Bible the “Book of Strange New Things”.

Peter of course, has to leave his wife and life on Earth behind for his assignment, and the two of them are full of hope and promises about the trip. But once he arrives, Peter gets stuck into his role as a missionary with all his might and gusto, while his wife goes through all kinds of challenges as the first world faces economic and social collapse.

There are a couple of threads in this book. First, it’s meant to demonstrate that distance and infrequent communications between husband and wife begin to build walls between them, and it turns out, funnily enough, that extra long distance relationships don’t really work. We also try to find out the truth about Oasis, the people who work there, and the natives.

You may be thinking, well this actually sounds interesting. It’s not. And spoiler alert, before I start my rant.

The problem with this book is that nothing exciting actually happens. Peter goes to Oasis. He spends a lot of time with boring people, then he travels across a boring, flat landscape to live with the native Oasans, who live in a boring settlement with no sense of architecture and they all wear the same thing. The Oasans are also really nice and enthusiastic. Then he goes back to the humans, and the cycle repeats a few times.

There’s not really any conflict in this book, unless you count the collapse of the UK economy and a whole bunch of natural disasters faced by Beatrice on Earth as “conflict”, which none of the characters actually experience. Well, and for some reason, that bit where Peter sleeps with one of his coworkers is just not mentioned again. Seriously, what the hell?

This book is such a disappointment, mainly because it brings up all these interesting ideas, like what would an alien from another world think of humans, our history, culture and religions? Or how would you deal with being separated from your loved ones for an extended period of time? Then, it takes these ideas and puts them in a bag and leaves them at the airport. Bah. All we get is a lot of internal whingeing from Peter.

If you’re going to read a science fiction book, don’t read The Book of Strange New Things. It’s not very good, mainly because it induces a level of boredom that would be comparable to tuning into a radio station and listening to parliamentary proceedings at an old folk’s home. At least question time could get rowdy.

Rating

It’s boring. In fact, this book is the quintessential grey cardigan.

Read this if you…

Enjoy wasting your time with frivolous activities like Masterchef or gossip magazines.

Skip this if you…

Have any semblance of a personality.

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4 thoughts on “The Book of Strange New Things

  1. “Skip this if you…

    Have any semblance of a personality.” – How rude, I have a huge personality and I love this book! I jest, but really I love this book, sorry you didn’t enjoy it. Faber wrote it as his wife was dying and I really picked up on the sadness and depth of feelings portrayed. Yes ‘nothing happens’ but that isn’t what the book is about so I wasn’t bothered.

    • I’m actually really sorry I didn’t like it either. I didn’t know about the context in which it was written, though I don’t think that excuses the fact that it was terribly boring.

      • I’ll agree to disagree! Have you read any other Faber? I liked Under the Skin, though I am sure you don’t trust my judgement!

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