This novel was definitely NOT anything like Faber's book, The Crimson Petal and the White (my favorite of all his books) set in Victorian London. Instead, the reader is transported to a brave new world far away from Earth where a mysterious mega corporation known as USIC has set up a colony of scientists to make the planet liveable. The new world is named Oasis in a contest and Peter Leigh is sent there as a missionary to cater to the needs of the native inhabitants -- to bring them the word of Jesus and his Book of Strange New Things -- The King James Bible. Peter is no ordinary pastor -- once a drug addict and alcoholic, the reformed preacher is eager to begin his work spreading the good news to the Oasans (as he calls them). Surprisingly, many of these natives are already converted and hungry for the Word. Unfortunately, Peter's wife, Bea, has had to stay behind on Earth putting a severe strain on their marriage as billions of miles separate them and they can only communicate by messages sent through a device called the Shoot.
While Bea sends messages of calamity in England and disasters around the world, Peter finds himself in his element tending to his new flock. Overcome with his success, he neglects Bea and their relationship starts to unravel. Caring less about the world he left behind, Peter becomes even more involved with his community of believers and stays with them in their settlement. The creatures are not human in any way, their language is almost unpronounceable, but they attempt to speak English, though without the ability to say some of the consonants *s and *t, for example. Although Peter still interacts peripherally with the others at the USIC base, he finds his heart and soul with the natives and works beside them getting to know them better.
I'm not quite sure what to say about my reaction to this book. I have read other glowing reviews calling this a masterpiece. I'm not feeling it. On one hand, it was interesting, on the other, I can see that if you are not a Christian, you will get very tired of the religious theme that is pervasive throughout the book. Peter often quotes long passages from the Bible and delivers sermons to the Oasans and, when he writes Bea -- admonishes his wife to pray and trust in God though her life is falling apart. The concept of new world building is scientifically interesting, but the main story here is Peter bringing Jesus to the natives who want more of this Book of Strange New Things -- in fact, dedicate themselves to its study even as Peter tries to explain concepts of the passages in words they can understand since they don't have knowledge of sheep, flock, gender, and so on. I found myself totally irritated with Peter's self-absorption and selfishness as God-sent missionary and totally empathetic to poor Bea.
And, if this bothers you, be warned -- there's a sort of cliffhanger at the end. Knowing how Faber ended Crimson Petal should give you an idea. Would make a great book club book for discussion and I'd love to hear more about what others think of its literary merit.