Do you know how some hotels have a book swap? It can be a haven for those who, like me, can never correctly judge how many books you need for a holiday. This time, I thought four books were enough for a week’s holiday but realised I was wrong with a couple of days and lots of travelling left to do. So I dutifully perused the selection in a hotel bar, marvelled and all the languages on offer and quickly became very excited by the prospect of a certain book.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. A little under a year ago, I read The Fire Gospel by this author and I loved it. I had been promising myself that I would read some more of his work but inevitably had never gotten round to it. I am happy to report that this book just made me like this author even more.
The Book of Strange New Things is difficult to characterise but a philosophical sci-fi love story feels like a good fit. It centres around Peter, who is chosen for a once in a lifetime opportunity to preach to the native population of a new planet. His wife Bea has to stay at home, in an increasingly unsettled world. Their only communication is through emails, where Peter can’t quite grasp the scale of the news Bea shares with him. Soon the distance causes cracks to appear in their relationship, which Peter doesn’t know how to repair, especially when so much of his time is spent trying to get to know the inhabitants of Oasis.
What that summary doesn’t do justice to is the beautifully human characters that Faber introduces us to, and not just with the ‘humans’ of the book. These are people that you are rooting for and invested in from the first few chapters. Watching their relationships unfold feels like you have been lucky enough to be invited into a conversation. It was intimate and interesting, in the best possible way
Meanwhile, this is set in a brilliantly creative universe, with an entire new civilisation to be shown. Faber has a real talent for the details that really help to immerse you in the sense of a place.
This is all crafted together until The Book of Strange New Things feels like a wonderful gift of a book. It felt like a treat to get to know these characters and the new settlement of Oasis. I loved every moment and was desperately disappointed for it to end, especially since the ending didn’t have anything like a neat resolution. I could have read another 500 pages of this story with plenty of ease and enjoyment.
So, finally, to the stranger that left a copy of this book in a hotel in Greece, I have to say thank you, thank you, thank you.