Reading THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS is like eating finely seasoned roast beef between two pieces of Wonder bread. As one would not mix gourmet with consumer brand, so authors should not allow delectable ideas with forgettable words. The author’s material is built upon an exceptional idea—perfect fodder for numerous literary awards. The key piece being: unique. However, this powerhouse of thought does not have the structure to support its efforts.
What I love: a missionary taking the Bible to an alien race, and leaving his wife on earth. I’ve read several Bible missionary books and they all take their wives along. To split the couple, not just by continent, but by orbits, is a daring risk that’s full of potential. To have an alien race embrace words of the Bible is refreshing and interesting. Add in a futuristic earth with all of its problems, both political and personal, and the whole thing is nearly perfect. But then…
What I loathe: the writing style and characters. Michel Faber is a talented writer; I’m not sure why he took such a casual approach here. The conversations and inner-character thought dialogues are the most troubling; the words try too hard to be everyday man, laid back. The writing is not tight, nor does it seek constant answers to the deep questions. The structure of the plot begs these questions to be asked. It is like playing a volleyball game with a perfect set and a spike that lobs softly over.
The characters are questionable from the get-go. The relationship between the husband and wife is not believable, nor is their love for their cat. Bizarre, really. As a former evangelical minister myself, the missionary’s relationship with God and the Bible reeks of fiction.
Is the novel redeemable? Absolutely. The ideas and context will stir in your mind for days. You’ll ask yourself questions about current culture, politics, religion, and treatment of others. Chances are, you’ll wonder at the newness of things taken for granted. It’s a lovely premise that’s worthy to read, despite the lightweight writing style to support it all.
I want to thank Crown and Random House for providing an electronic review copy of this book to review.