Monday, November 16, 2015

The Book of Strange New Things

Book 27 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from April 18 - May 26

The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

Summary (via Goodreads)
It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.
Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.
Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that madeThe Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos

My Opinion
Here's the thing.  I tend to avoid Christian fiction because it's my least favorite genre.  When I do happen to read it as a recommendation or a book club selection, I try to put my bias aside and rate the book as is; it's not fair for me to pick up a book I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy and then tear it apart.  
BUT...when a book isn't clearly labeled as Christian fiction so I have no idea what I'm getting into, I get to rate it based on my opinion.  
My opinion is a very low 2 stars, only redeemed from a 1 star rating because of the middle section.

As I started to read, I was disappointed because it seemed like the only thing sci-fi about this book was that instead of Pastor Peter being a missionary in another country, he's on another planet.  As I continued to read, I was curious about what would happen but couldn't forget the anger I felt in the beginning at being tricked.  Then it started to move away from Christian fiction with language and sexual situations and even though Part IV was completely off the rails, I let my guard down and wondered if my initial judgement was too harsh.  Then the ending came and I was angry again; it was so abrupt I had to check and see if there was a cliffhanger for another book I didn't know about.  I've invested 500 pages, I need more resolution!

On the plus side, the author had some beautiful phrases even if I didn't buy the concept. For example, "A small red insect, like a ladybird but with longer legs, settled on his hand. He aligned his fingertips in a triangle and let the creature walk up the incline of one finger and down the slope of another. He let the creature nibble the surplus cells from the surface of his skin. It wasn't greedy; he barely felt it and then it flew away."  I also appreciated the little things like the last words of each chapter being that chapter's title, or the section headings coming together for part of the Lord's Prayer (Thy Will Be Done/On Earth/As It Is/In Heaven), or the pages looking like goldleaf when the book is closed to resemble a bible.

So this review is all over the place, just like my feelings about the book.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"...he was embarking on a great adventure. He'd been chosen out of thousands, to pursue the most important missionary calling since the Apostles had ventured forth to conquer Rome with the power of love, and he was going to do his best."

"Like all creatures in the universe, they were only waiting for the elusive light that would grant them purpose."

"If only Bea could see this, he thought. Every day, provoked by some event or other, he regretted her absence. It wasn't a physical yearning - that came and went, and it was at an ebb just now - but rather an uneasy awareness that a huge, complicated phase of his life was passing by, crowded with significant and emotional experiences, none of which Bea was seeing, non of which she was remotely involved in. And again now: these three great shimmering veils of rain, swirling majestically across the plains toward him: they were indescribable, and he would not descibe them, but seeing them would leave a mark on him, a mark that would not be left on her."

"Simply lying side by side did more for a relationship than words. A warm bed, a nest of animal intimacy. Words could be misunderstood, whereas loving companionship bred trust."

"It's all about the scale of the problems and the available energy to deal with it. When someone gets their leg blown off by a bomb, you rush them into surgery, mend the stump, fit them with a prosthetic, give them physiotherapy, counseling, whatever it takes, and a year later, they may be running a marathon. If a bomb blows off their arms. legs, genitals, intestines, bladder, liver, and kidneys, IT IS DIFFERENT. We need a certain proportion of things to be OK in order to be able to cope with other things going wrong. Whether it's a human body or Christian endeavor or life in general, we can't keep it going if too much of what we need is taken away from us."

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