Review: “The Book of Strange New Things,” Michel Faber

Rating:  4/5

Publisher’s Synopsis:  A monumental, genre-defying novel more than ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from the author of the renowed The Crimson Petal and the White.

Peter, a devoted man of faith, 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 seeming friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hunger for Peter’s teachings – his Bible is their “Book of Strange New Things.”  But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasing 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.

Replete with emotional complexity and marked by the same bravura storytelling that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is a gripping, hauntingly profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

May I take a moment to appreciate that synopsis?  It takes you up to the last page of the book and gives you almost no information.  It’s really a thing of beauty.

I might just be procrastinating because I’m not sure what to write.  I am glad I read this book, but I haven’t the faintest idea what I think about it.  I was going to put off writing the review, but I don’t think my thoughts will get much clearer, so this might be a little different.

Let’s start with something easy:  I didn’t like the main character.  It’s fairly unusual that I like a book in which that is the case, but this seems to be an exception.  Peter is mildly obnoxious and runs through the pages of most of the books sticking faith on wounds like Band-Aids on a bullet hole.  He is trite and full of fake sincerity that made me want to vomit.  His wife is similar for most of the novel.  However, it is truly masterful how well Faber communicates what is happening to her through only her letters to Peter.  It is unbelievably easy to imagine what she is going through and how she is feeling (and, also masterfully, the fact that it is so easy to imagine is an important plot point).

For the first two-thirds of this book, I enjoyed the world-building, but not much was happening.  Then, all of a sudden, things started to happen.  Then, much to my surprise, they stopped just as suddenly.  It was strange.  At the end, I’m fairly certain that there were more questions left unanswered than were answered.

Michel Faber has said that this will be his last novel.  It was written as his wife was dying of cancer, and that very much informs the narrative.  There are multiple passages that are utterly beautiful and heart-wrenching.

I don’t know what else to say about this.  One reviewer noted that it seemed like a wonderful first chapter to an apocalyptic novel that will never be written, and there is something to be said about that.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a novel about the failings (or not) of faith, the non-alienness of alien life, and the strength (or not) of love through adversity.  I can’t describe it adequately.  Just read it.


Redhead in Scrubs: Perspective

In absolutely no way is anything in this series to be taken as advice.  I am not an expert in how to get accepted to medical school – I’ve been rejected exponentially more than I’ve been accepted.  If there was a formula to get in, I’d share it – but there isn’t.  Everyone who is accepted gets to that point a different way.

Waiting is the worst part.  Waiting for interviews is easy – you don’t know if or when they’re coming.  Waiting for decisions seems impossible.

After my last interview, we were all told to expect news in 2-3 weeks.  Then, there were two major ice storms and the mail got all discombobulated – and that was even IF the admission committee had met as scheduled.  Friday was four weeks from the interview, and for the first time, a few people who leaved in the Southeast had heard news.  They were all holding status – on the wait list, essentially.  As soon as I found that out, I started preparing myself for the same news.

On Saturday, the news came – holding.  I was disappointed.  Matt was disappointed.  I had felt good about the interview and I was really hoping for an acceptance.  Now, I have one acceptance and I’m on three wait lists – it seems like the waiting will never end!  I know that I’m lucky to have that acceptance, but that’s hard to remember when I keep not getting the news I want.

But then, a funny thing happened.  I told my mom the news, and her first response was “Congratulations!”  I thought it was striking how different her reaction was to mine.  It wasn’t just more positive or optimistic, it was probably more realistic.  Out of everyone who applies to medical school in any given year, about 5% will ultimately be accepted.  Roughly 1/4-1/3 of the people on each of the wait lists that I’m on will ultimately get into the class.  That’s not too shabby.

Am I still disappointed?  Yes.  But it’s not bad news – and in a process with much more bad news than good, that’s nothing to sneer at.