By Michel Faber
To read The Book of Strange New Things is to be reminded, gently , oh so gently, that loss, especially the loss of some one we love is never as we imagine it to be.
Many years ago now when My Beloved died, a well meaning friend offered this..
‘I‘ve though for years what I would do if ( insert name of spouse and father to children)died. I’d sell the properties, simplify , return to ……, I’ve thought about it, over and over and that’s what I’d do, what I’ll do ,when he dies.”
I didn’t respond or react, mind you I didn’t react to much back then, I didn’t start reacting in anyway that could be described as normal again for many years, I was simply numb. But even then, so soon after his death, what I wanted to say, scream even, is…you have no idea. You think you know what you’d do, how you’ll feel. But the truth is you have no idea what you’d do, it doesn’t work like that.
I had always thought I’d know what I’d do too.
Michel Faber’s Peter Leigh is a man who, having found God after a god awful youth, wants to share His message with the inhabitants of Oasis, another planet that mankind is gradually colonizing . He leaves his wife Bea, their parish in England and travels to Oasis with his Book of Strange New Things , as the Oasians refer to it. The Book of Strange New Things is , of course, the Bible. Leigh has prayed and planned for this trip, but nothing has prepared him for what actually happens, to himself on Oasis and to his adored Beatrice( and what better definition of hell is there than to be separated from those we love?), back on Earth.
I was so moved, so transported by Faber’s tale, that I simply had to know more about him. I discovered he is a close friend and contemporary of David Mitchell’s( Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clock’s, Black Swan Green). Mitchell is one of my favourite authors. I also discovered his wife recently died. I didn’t need this second piece of information to fall in love with The Book of Strange New Things, and Faber is already a writer of renown, but to me, it helped explain the stillness and peace I found in this work, the beauty.
The Book of Strange New Things is a work about belief. It’s a book about the way in which modern communications have truly, radically altered our lives. It’s a book about distance, actual and metaphorical, but mainly and in the end it is a book about love. Buy it. Read it. Give it. It is a masterclass in how to write about love.
“ He thought of Bea, reading to him from Chapter VI [from The Gospel of Matthew] in the bedroom of her tiny flat when they were first together, her voice soft and fervent as she spoke of the heavenly sanctuary where precious things were safe from harm:’For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ He thought of Matthew’s last words, and the meaning they could have for two people who loved each other: I am with you always, even until the end of the world. Amen.”