The Living Book Club blasts off into its November pick: Michel Faber's cosmic-themed yet down-to-earth "The Book of Strange New Things."
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Heading into holiday season, the Living Book Club is sinking our collective teeth into the 512-page drama "The Book of Strange New Things" (Hogarth). Michel Faber's storytelling is at full force in this new novel. Its out-of-this-world locale -- complete with a population of extraterrestrial life-forms -- certainly provides all the allure of a space tale. But if sci-fi is not your forte, you'll still get sucked in: The heart of this book lies closer to home.

The stress on protagonist Peter's relationship with his wife, who has remained on Earth while her husband launches to a new planet, doesn't feel alien at all. Nor do the questions of faith that Peter faces while imparting the Bible's teachings to the natives. Faber beautifully highlights the complications of far-distanced relationships and his character's questioned faith in love and religion. In other words, the premise of the story is based in the cosmos, but the spirit of it has its feet planted firmly on the relatable ground.


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.

Be sure to let us know what you think of Faber's novel. We are always up for a little friendly debate. Comment below!


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