“Do not judge a book by its cover” would be a highly useful warning for the potential reader, who might be put off by the extreme vagueness of the title. Any concern that the content of the novel might be some kind of abstract, pseudo-existential pretentiousness is absolutely ungrounded. On the contrary, the eponymous Book of Strange New Things is revealed to be the Bible, and Christianity and love are two important focal points.
However, this does not mean that there are no strange new things involved. Christianity and love are merely the most obvious of the themes, and although they are handled very tactfully and are certainly very important, they are perhaps not the most interesting: one need not be very knowledgeable about Christianity to appreciate the story. Some exposition might be needed at this point: The Book of Strange New Things is a Science Fiction narrative that follows the missionary work of the Anglican priest Peter Leigh far from his native England. His new environment appears the be unexciting at first, but as he gets to know the locals better, he learns to appreciate the minute details of his new surroundings, which provide it with a vividness that even someone foreign to that climate can fall in love with. Peter’s adventures in wonderland are however starkly contrasted with events at home, and one might say that it is Peter’s wife Beatrice who has begun a journey down the rabbit hole rather than the alien priest.
What separates The Book of Strange New Things from Carroll’s novel is that, despite its unfamiliar setting, it remains extremely realistic due to the book’s rich details provided. For example the day-night cycle, which is unlike the one in our world, is utterly convincing because it is plausible due to slower planetary rotation. Moreover, the novel’s invocation of contemporary technology also allows for greater accessibility despite the action taking place in the future. Vivid description allows the reader to become immersed in the world Faber has created. It is almost possible to taste the rain, to feel the currents of air dancing around one’s ankles, and even the odd physiology of the natives is rendered homely after a while. The relative barrenness of the landscape frames what is arguably the most interesting aspect of the novel: how and whether to adapt, and how well one is able to cope. Faber’s novel is an exploration of human behaviour which hints at the consequences of climate change. Expressions of love are sometimes phrased in a mildly clichéd way, but these clichés are only used as a starting point to reveal the deeper implications of the intellectual and sexual love Bea and Peter share. However, their marriage is tested by time and geographical distance: as the novel unfolds, what we see is the dichotomy of Bea’s crescendos of disaster and Peter’s weird but stable life mapped out.
The result is an intelligent narrative that is fun to read, but also thought-provoking. Christian scenes are not preachy, and the entirety is linked by the challenge of dealing with the unknown and change. The Book of Strange New Things is further complemented by excellent timing and a swift but not hectic pace; the prose is subject to a kind of casual elegance that is as apparent in the imagery as the syntax, with very minor technical hiccups, such as the debatable overuse of the same typing mistakes in Beatrice’s messages at the end of the second part. Faber’s novel is well-rounded in nearly all aspects, with no structural fault and excellent handling. The author manages to bring an ecosystem to life that is explained just enough to make it conceivable but leaving enough questions unanswered to make readers want more, and will most likely leave them wondering why the book is only 547 pages long.