I have to admit, when I opened this book and discovered it was about a missionary, my first thought was how can I get out of this. After reading a few pages, I wasn’t worried about it at all. This book is about a missionary. And it is about his struggles to bring The Book to the people of Oasis. But to call this a novel about a missionary is to call the story of Columbus the story of an Italian.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber is above all a poignant love story. It explores the bonds between Peter and Beatrice Leigh as they are tested by their very separate experiences in two very different environments. Bea is home on Earth as a mounting series of horrific events take place, shaking her faith and making her yearn for her partner to share these events. Peter is having new adventures in an entirely new environment that is fully brought to life for the reader. He finds that he resents having to communicate with Bea because it interrupts the flow of his exciting mission on a planet that is very different from Earth.
The scifi aspects of this novel are incorporated into Peter’s experience. We see the planet through his eyes. We experience each new discovery with him. We see the people of Oasis through as he does, yet we also hear them described by the other people in his compound. Peter is aware that he is one of the first to see what is before him and he is open to the experience. His openness leads him to an appreciation of the planet that is not common among those who visit. He is a reliable, yet naive narrator, undergoing an experience that causes him to question his fundamental values as well as his faith.
Ultimately, Peter must examine his role as partner and the propriety of placing his yearning for a new quest over the legitimate needs of his partner as she grapples with the destruction of the planet they call home. His eventual conclusion is not reached until the last possible moment, leaving the reader to wonder about the final outcome that takes place after the book ends.
I would highly recommend this book. It brings together questions of faith, love, the treatment of alien beings, what it takes to damage a soul, and the essence of being human. The writing is fantastic, the setting is vividly drawn, the main characters are multi-dimensional. All in all, I give this book five stars.