Though Faber’s novel is quite hefty, it’s content can be summarized in a nutshell: preacher Peter leaves his wife to go and work on another planet. To his surprise the aliens, the Oasans, welcome him and his bible, the Book of Strange New Things, with open arms. He decides to live in their midst and is gradually sucked into their life style which he sees as preferable to the human one: easy going, with respect for fellow Oasans and their planet Oasis. Meanwhile on earth the years of disabuse have led to bankruptcy, failure of systems, lack of supplies and food, disorder and downright anarchy. Bea, Peter’s wife, finds it harder and harder to cope with the violence and harsh conditions around her. Her desperate pleas for help go unanswered. Peter is too taken in by Oasis and the Oasans to hear her cries for help. By the time he realizes that quoting the bible is not calming her down, rather the opposite (I felt tempted to strangle him), their marriage might be at stake. I’ll not spoil things for future readers and leave some things unsaid, which by the way is exactly what Faber does all the time. He is playing with his readers by making them think twice about what is happening, about the Oasans, about the humans working on the planet, about why they are on Oasis in the first place and about Peter. I must admit that reading the description of the Oasans it took me about a second to replace it by an image of an Ood, including the red eyes they get in some episodes of Doctor Who. It made me wait all the time for the moment things would go dreadfully wrong. I would not be surprised if Faber counted on his readers’ preconceived idea about aliens: they cannot be totally peaceful, can they now? At the end it becomes clear why the Oasans are that peaceful. Their bodies lack a healing mechanism, even the tiniest wound will lead to their death. It is not believe but fear that makes them calm and easy going, which puts it in quite a different perspective. Jesus Lover One, who welcomed Peter with open arms, gets rather nasty when Peter tries to help the Oasans by rewriting the bible in a way that they can pronounce the words. Jesus Lover One clearly rejects change. A nice parallel by the way with the humans working on Oasis. Though they think of themselves as adventurers, they have been selected because they can live for years and years without craving change.
Faber’s novel is all about putting things in a different perspective time and time again. Until the very last moment I did not know for certain whether Peter would remain on Oasis or dash home to rescue his Bea. I guess that Faber is commenting on the way we treat our planet, I am not sure whether he is quite convinced the Oasan way is the right one. Written like a thriller The Book of Strange New Things contains many layers and leaves you questioning things all the time. There is only one truth in The Book of Strange New Things: there is no one truth, question everything. Though one might suspect that Faber does not think religion the answer to all our problems, he does end the novel with a quote from Matthew, a double-layered one of course: I am with you always, even until the end of the world. An intriguing ending to an intriguing novel.