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Review: The Book of Strange New Things

The Book of Strange New Things
The Book of Strange New Things

By Michel Faber
(Hogarth, Hardcover, 9780553418842, October 2014, 512pp.)

The Short of It:

It’s all strange and new and in my opinion, wonderful.

The Rest of It:

After a lifetime of drug addiction and a series of very bad choices, Peter Leigh finally pulls himself together. He finds his soul mate, marries her and becomes a pastor for the local church. Scrubbed of his sin and living what could be called a simple but good life, Peter applies for a position that will take him far, far away from his wife, Bea.

Peter has been chosen to travel to another planet. His mission is to share the word of God with the Oasans, who at times seem to possess human characteristics but look nothing like the humans he’s tended to in the past. Oddly enough, Peter enjoys his assignment on Oasis and takes great pleasure in getting to know its people but he finds that over time, he is beginning to lose sense of reality.

In the mean time, his pregnant wife Bea, is back home trying to live in a world that is falling apart. Climate change, natural disasters and an ever-increasing sense of panic have caused her to lose faith in God and this upsets Peter greatly. Their only form of communication is through The Shoot, which is a very primitive and not always reliable form of text messaging and it’s through these messages that we get the bulk of who Peter is and what he holds dear.

I told another blogger early on, that this book reminded me of The Sparrow, and it does but mostly because it involves an expedition to an unknown planet, is heavy on religious themes and also involves an alien race quite different from our own. The tone is completely different here. More upbeat, and dare I say it? Hopeful.

What makes this novel come alive, are the descriptive passages. I was mesmerized by all that was going on, no matter how mundane. In Faber’s hands, it’s all new and worthy of exploration. I literally hung on every word, which is why it took me so long to read it. But for some reason, the time it took to read it was not important. There are questions to be answered and truthfully, many are not answered by the end of the book, but the “what ifs” pull you through the narrative effortlessly.

I find myself pondering this book daily. I finished it a few days ago, but it keeps coming back to me. Peter’s dilemma of wanting to be in two places at once and us as readers knowing that Earth’s current state is anything but ideal. I finished this when the announcement was made on the news that California has about a year’s worth of water left. A year’s worth! That’s it. What will we do?

That said, The Book of Strange New Things is a powerful, yet quiet read. I don’t recall many of you reading it. Perhaps its 500+ pages discouraged you but there is so much to sink your teeth into. It’s definitely worth your time.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun
South of the Border, West of the Sun

By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679767398, March 2000, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

Success and happiness don’t always go hand in hand.

The Rest of It:

Okay, guys. My love for Murakami is approaching full-on creep level. If I could shrink him down and put him in my pocket, I’d carry him around all day long. Weird, huh?

I saved this book for a long time because it was the last translated novel that I had not read but when my father passed away and I was unable to pull myself out of bed, I reached for it and Murakami’s writing did what I expected it to. It soothed, refreshed, made me ponder life in a big way, and all of a sudden all these feelings were rushing through me again.

This is probably one of my favorite novels, ever. It’s right up there with Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s a plain, simple story about a middle-aged man by the name of Hajime. He has a loving wife, and two beautiful daughters. He owns a couple of very successful Jazz clubs and enjoys the life he’s earned. But deep down, there’s something missing.

Not fully understanding this sense of longing, he’s reminded of a girl he knew in childhood by the name of Shimamoto. She was his everything but that was a long time ago. Is it possible that she even remembers him?

Memory plays a big role in this story and it’s beautifully handled. Murakami paints vivid, broad strokes when it comes to Shimamoto so it’s easy to see why Hajime is so taken with her. In childhood she’s this beautiful, delicate untouchable thing but when she walks into his club one rainy evening, Hajime begins to doubt his own existence and is no longer sure what happiness is.

This novel is full of romantic interludes but I hesitate to call it a romance because it’s much deeper than your typical romance novel. If you are familiar with Murakami’s writing at all, you know that his books can walk the surreal line. Some of his books are way out there, like Kafka and Wind-up but others are more subtle and this one is definitely one of the quiet ones but oh, how I loved it. That last page! That last line. Sigh.

If I want to try Murakami, which book should I read first?

Everyone always asks me which book to read first. It’s really hard to say. I read Kafka on the Shore first and it was like an acid trip. At page 50 I was about to give up on it and then something clicked. But that’s me. I like it when an author surprises me. But I think about 75% of you would run screaming from a room if you picked that one up first.

So then, to be on the safe side, I usually suggest After Dark, which dips into the surreal but not overly so but if you like excitement then that one might not work for you. Then, there are his short story collections. Some of you adore short stories and some of you don’t. But, I have to say that South of the Border, West of the Sun is the one I will recommend for first time readers from here on out. It’s beautifully written and well-balanced. Not too much of any one thing which makes it a good read for first-time readers of his work.

Just for Fun

Check out this cafe which became a hangout for Murakami fans. I’d like to live there.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.