The Book of Commonplace Old Things

Literary reviews are hard for me. I’ve never taken a stab at one and it seems like there’s so much ground to cover when discussing any novel.

But I’m gonna try because I’m wide awake and pissed right now after finishing the Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.

I’ll admit that I went into this book without any prior knowledge beyond the fact that he had written Under the Skin, a book which I haven’t read and a film which I’ve heard great things about. As a result, and of the expectancy wrought by the critical praise adorning the novel, I expected a life-altering experience soon to be followed by a killer film adaptation.

And yet I wound up with 500 pages of anti-climax. Everything just kind of swam along until there was a speed bump, then it kept swimming, then it ended. It was kinda like the Poisonwood Bible in space, except driven by anthropological generalizations and paraphrased platitudes instead of in-close & personal intimations.

I dunno, I’m just mad at the book for not delivering the goods. It kept feeling like there was a great big secret waiting to be revealed yet it seemed as if the characters’s weren’t in the on the answer either. Their knowledge of all things, as with the reader’s, only expanded to the edge of the page. Instead of a big reveal or a third act redemption, there was Just plot point upon plot point until certainly it was time for the pastor to let his flock lead itself.

The central selling point of the book–the pastor’s relationship with his wife on Earth millions of miles away–seems to climax at a nihilistic proclamation of faith. Since she’s only speaking through written word (demarcated by a sans-serif font to denote “this is totally on a computer screen”), we are as far as the pastor is from her words. Except there’s no prior context to it for the reader: the only episode we have of his wife is brief before his leaving of Earth. We need fucking more.

Perhaps that’s all this book lacks, is more. More to be frustrated at, maybe, but more to make it feel like a fully realized idea. It arcs as a complete story while maintaining a first-act expository tone throughout the proceedings and, as a result, ends with exasperation. I never felt the story move; it was as barren and flat as the alien land it inhabits.

So maybe that’s the whole point? That the book is supposed to reflect the mission? That’s probably it. But in its state, I read and read and read like I was going on a long distance drive only to wind up not at my destination but right before it.

This review feels incomplete, but I can’t quite find the words to verse what else I felt about the book. It prickled my faith, but not enough to make me pick up a Bible or go to church. It just is and is and is, like God too I guess.

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