“The rhetoric of a sermon was one thing; his wife’s grim reality was another. Civilizations did not vanish smoothly and easefully; empires did not set like suns: empires collapsed in chaos and violence. Real people got pushed around, beaten up, robbed, made destitute. Real lives went down the toilet. Bea was scared and hurt, and she didn’t need his preaching.”

This paragraph comes near the end of The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. Peter, a British pastor, accepted a mission to a space colony while Bea stayed in London. I wrote in my original 2015 review of this novel, Can a marriage be saved even if you are doing God’s will and serving him to the best of your ability? The author provides an answer to this question in a surprising and thought-provoking manner that holds up with this reread.

Peter embarks on a mission to a space colony occupied by USIC. There is a native population called Oasans, a humanoid race of people that are fervent believers in Jesus Christ. They are looking for a pastor to lead their church.  Peter becomes the pastor selected by USIC to honor the Oasans request.

As London collapses every day, Bea struggles to cope with the situation. The couple began their correspondence on a strong note, but it eventually became a trial of their faith. When I first read this novel in 2015, my focus was on Peter and Bea, rightly so.  Their interaction is at the core of the novel.

However, upon this reread, I have become interested in the supporting character, Grainger, the pharmacist from Illinois, that drives Peter to the Oasans settlement regularly.  She supplies the medicines for the Oasans and has no relationship with them.  Grainger is interested in Peter’s mission and the two of them have a connection that adds another layer to the novel.

Faber portrays the difference in beliefs between Peter and Grainger effectively, and how loneliness can change one’s perspective. This novel provides no simple answers and a realistic scenario for how far one will go for their Christianity. In closing, I keep being reminded of these scripture verses from the Book of Romans, Chapter Twelve, 1 & 2 (The Message Bible):

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Many preachers have used these verses from the Book of Romans, which is considered the book of spiritual maturity in the New Testament, in their sermons. However, I believe this novel reveals a blind spot for those of the Christian faith can have when they tried to live those scripture verses out literally.  Real life is messy.  Genuine faith is messy.  And the two don’t always mix in how a sermon or study of those scriptures can neatly lay out.

The Book of Strange of New Things is on my all-time favorite novels list, alongside Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, The Little Country by Charles de Lint, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. All of those novels held up during a second reading and ask big questions about life and our place in it.  The power of fiction makes it one of the safest spaces to explore those big questions. The Book of Strange New Things by Faber is a unique and polarizing literary fiction novel that I believe will be remembered as one of the great novels of the 21st century.


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