Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

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Another frustrating foray into gussied up genre literature. This time it’s science fiction, with an admittedly pretty great twist. Peter, our protagonist is a missionary going to minister to alien population. He leaves his wife back on earth, where, as we learn through a series of communications, everything is falling apart. Life in space is going splendidly, and the protagonist has to decide between his mission and his wife. Sounds super interesting, right?

Just not as good as all the glowing reviews suggested. There were a lot of meditations on faith and love and loss that just never connected for me. We spend a lot of time in Peter’s head, and I didn’t find him particularly compelling or comprehensible. This is, in part, my fault, as I find his particular brand of Christianity (close personal relationship with a God who is in charge of your life, all you need to do is have faith, and everything will be ok, etc.) hard to wrap my head around. We experience this world and these events primarily through him, and he is the least interesting thing happening (except perhaps for the subplot with Grainger’s father, which… no).

That said, there’s still some pretty great stuff in here. The dynamics of the world’s longest distance relationship where everything is great for one party and everything is awful for the other was super compelling. I’d be 100% into an epistolary novel of the messages between Peter and his wife. The shadowy corporation running the settlement was intriguing and the twisty little pay-off on that was pretty fun.

I guess what I’m saying is that I loved all of the genre stuff and just couldn’t connect with the literary stuff. This got me thinking that maybe I DON’T love lit-fic/genre mash-ups as much as I thought. But then I remember The Bone Clocks, Station Eleven. I remember Margaret Atwood. I remember Kazuo Ishiguro.

I’ll keep this odd little sub-genre (or super-genre? I don’t know). And I’ll keep expecting more than this.

3/5 stars

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