The Book of Strange New Things
by Michel Faber
I am struggling to categorise this rather excellent book. On the face of it is sci fi with the main action taking place on a distant outpost called Oasis but in reality its a hauntingly evocative book about faith and love.
The tale is set in the near future with Peter, the central character, transported billions of miles to Oasis to serve as a missionary to the indigenous population. He leaves behind him Bea, his wife with whom he corresponds by "shoot" which is a basic form of word only e-mail.
The imagery offered by Faber is exquisite and whilst the plot is slow the description is compelling and its as hard not to engage with this strange new planet as it is to put the book down. All the way through you are wondering what its all about and what lies behind the motivation of the shadowy organisation who manages the operation.
But in some ways the story line isn't about life on Oasis, or the strange inhabitants who are so hungry to hear the Gospel of Jesus, or indeed why satisfying this desire is so crucial to the non believing human colonists. In fact the real story is about the love between Peter and Bea which is stretched to the limits as the world at home falls to bits and the limits of their written communications cause their relationship to start to crack. There are times when you can hardly bear to read another of their missives as as everything comes unglued.
I always find it hard to read / watch stories of relationships failing, and the limitations of their written communication remind me of the stresses of maintaining our own long distance relationship before we married all those years ago.
Whilst one party is set in sci fi land, the tensions between the two central characters is very down to earth and reflects the pressures which exist where one party is removed for long periods of time - the armed forces come to mind.
Don't be put off by the Sci Fi veneer - thats just geography which allows Faber to explore faith set in different contexts.
This is a "thinking" book with depth and gravitas - intensely gripping and good fodder for the book group.