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In Which I Read The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber and Had Some OPINIONS About It

My sister gave me this book for my birthday, so I really really wanted to like it. I’d heard a lot of good things. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of it. I went in with hope.

Some basic premise for those who don’t know: our main character is Peter the priest, who is recruited by a corporation called USIC to be a pastor for some aliens on a planet where they have a base, as the last pastor disappeared/possibly died.

Peter’s wife Bea wants to come too, but she doesn’t pass USIC’s tests. So, they are separated by a gazillion miles and can only communicate via intergalactic email. It’s pretty rubbish for them, but they are filled with sweet hope and God’s love. They think it’s going to be ok.

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2015 Canongate paperback

First of all, having now finished the book, I still can’t work out why a scientific research project to another planet would take a pastor with them. None of the staff there seem to be religious, and the whole story is set at some undefined point in the future, possibly hundreds of years from now. Humans have made first contact, and yet we take a pastor to meet the aliens – what the fuck? Don’t aliens sort of negate Christianity?

Also, the whole thing is super imperial/colonial. USIC are on this new planet ostensibly for some sort of research, mostly with the earth and the plants… it’s a bit unspecific. They exchange medicine with the natives in return for foodstuffs, mostly made from the only plant that seems to grow, whiteflower, which can be used to make replicas of most human foods. So there’s a basic trading relationship, but all the USIC staff refer to the natives as ‘freaks’ and their settlement as ‘freaktown’. And for some reason they brought a priest who taught the natives all about God and Jesus. Hmm.

Peter identifies as a missionary, and this coupled with USIC colonisation just made me so uncomfortable. I am not religious, but I am happy for people to believe what they believe, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone – and as long as they are not evangelical. Missionary work is by definition evangelism and it makes me uncomfortable and kind of annoyed too. It’s VERY colonial. The aliens are ‘simple’ and have a pre-industrial society, which means the way that even Peter (who is full of Christian agape love for them…) talks about them is just really patronising and superior. The whole thing is just really off-putting.

Peter is a very difficult central character – the depth of his dependence on religion immediately made it very hard for me to relate to him, and there wasn’t really anything I liked about him. He is trying to help the aliens, and they want to learn about Christianity, but the absolute conviction that what he is doing is right just really bothered me. He also neglects his relationship with Bea and she and their life on Earth become less and less real to him. Our planet suffers from a slew of natural disasters, and society in the UK starts to break down. Bea has a terrible time of it and reaches out to Peter, but all he can do is repeat some Bible verses to her when she needs real reassurance from her husband. He just becomes a cut-out priest. He doesn’t have much depth to be honest, and he loses a lot of humanity by the end of the book.

Let’s talk about the aliens. Some people call the planet Oasis, and so Peter calls the aliens Oasans. They are small, they wear hooded robes, gloves and boots, and have no eyes. They are intelligent but not very sophisticated, and frankly do seem what you might call tribal. They live a very simple life and don’t want any more. All this is fine, except it’s not very original. It would have been wonderful if the Oasans were either more strange and Other, or were more like us. Instead they are ‘poor simple folk’ that we must educate with Christianity. I just didn’t like any of it.

So, there you go. I could probably talk a lot more about this book, and there are a handful of things I liked. The descriptions of Oasis and its weird weather are excellent, as is the strange feeling Peter has of being disconnected from Bea, but also from the other people at USIC. He exists in a sort of bubble, and this is well conveyed. But I didn’t like Peter, or his mission, or much of the story. I know some people seem to really love this book, but it just wasn’t for me. The whole aliens/colonisation/imperial thing would have worked a lot better and been a lot more interesting if religion wasn’t such a big part of it. It just didn’t sit right with me, and I was glad when I finally finished this book. It’s way too long anyway.

*

First published by Canongate in 2014. I read the 2015 Canongate paperback (pictured above).

You can buy this book here from Foyles.

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2015 in review (official Wordpress report!)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Kind of a random blog post that’s kind of related to Christmas

Hello all, my apologies for not posting for almost a month! I have been busy at work which = super tired, plus I have been reading quite slowly recently for some reason, so I haven’t had many books to review. I did finish Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood the other week, and have a brilliant (ha!) blog post on it planned out, but haven’t had the time to sit down and write it. I’m aiming to do that this weekend, promise.

I’ve also had some non-serious health issues that have kept me from the blog. So there’s that.

Luckily, I am super excited about Christmas and going on holiday to Copenhagen just before (woohoo!) so I will be sure to blog about that and post some photos, which will hopefully be good and christmassy.

For my Christmas reading, I’ve got the second half of Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon to read, and then I think it’ll be on to some more of The Early Stories of Truman Capote, which I’ve dipped into but not really spent that much time with. I have, as usual, quite a few unread books, so I’ll have to take some time to choose the next book to dive into!

Reviews-wise, I’ll soon be revieweing Look at Me by Sarah Duguid, which is a Big Title for Tinder Press next year. Learn more about it here. I’ll also post about Lady Audley and those early stories from the young Truman – they are very interesting indeed.

I’ll try to post as much as I can over the Christmas holidays. Are you all as excited about Christmas as me?!

Here’s a Christmas puppy for you:

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2013 in Review: Wordpress Report

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Apologies For The Delay

Hello all,

Sorry for not posting for a while. Health problems have prevented me from getting on with my usual work and reading, but normal service will resume in the next couple of weeks.

Until then, I would love to hear about what you’ve been reading! Tell me on Twitter: @LittleWordsRev

As always, happy reading!

 

Lizzi

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Another book from the Penguin Bloggers Night – Russia, science and space! Reviewed by the lovely Hannah on Writing About Books.

writingaboutbooks

Yet another of the spoils of Penguin Book Bloggers’ Night, Konstantin is soft-spoken Welsh author Tom Bullough‘s most recent novel about the father of russian space travel, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky(see the stamp below).

Turning to this novel the moment I had finished Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I was deeply immersed in Russia, and keen to learn more of this great country.

Even before opening this book, without having the faintest idea of what it was about, I was drawn to it’s beautiful cover, simple, white, with russian-looking details drawn in red. The opening phrases,

Kostya hurried down the bank towards the frozen Oka, fine and light in his heavy sheepskin coat as a sparrow in its winter plumage

echoed the white simplicity of the cover and drew me into an icy expanse of Russian history from the very first words. I have always been a judge-by-the-cover kind of reader…

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Not my usual literary hoohah but I have a great respect and girly love for Marilyn, mad as her life may have been. She was a mess, and she was wonderful. And damn it she was really, really beautiful.

Rust and Gold Dust

 Marilyn Monroe.

What a diamond. Champagne lover, literature fiend, blonde bombshell, femme fatale, one woman wonder, super star and all round beauty queen.

Here’s the best of Miss Marilyn Monroe. Those curves, that smile and some precious pearls of wisdom that should make you loud, proud and ready to shine. Life is short. Get out there and grab it.

 

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Review the Waterstones 11 for Little Words

It would be a wonderful thing to have reviews of as many of the Waterstones 11 novels on Little Words as possible. Obviously. If you would like to review any of them (listed below) please get in touch ASAP and reserve your chosen book. Thanks!

Shelter – Frances Greenslade

The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

Care of Wooden Floors – Will Wiles

Absolution – Patrick Flannery

The Land of Decoration – Grace McCleen

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

Signs of Life – Anna Raverat

The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

 

Lizzi

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