Excerpt from The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Book of Strange New Things

A Novel

by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber X
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2015, 480 pages

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THY WILL BE DONE
1
FORTY MINUTES LATER
HE WAS UP IN THE SKY.

I was going to say something," he said.

"So say it," she said.

He was quiet, keeping his eyes on the road. In the darkness of the city's outskirts, there was nothing to see except the tail-lights of other cars in the distance, the endless unfurling roll of tarmac, the giant utilitarian fixtures of the motorway.

"God may be disappointed in me for even thinking it," he said.

"Well," she sighed, "He knows already, so you may as well tell me."

He glanced at her face, to judge what mood she was in as she said this, but the top half of her head, including her eyes, was veiled in a shadow cast by the edge of the windscreen. The bottom half of her face was lunar bright. The sight of her cheek, lips and chin—so intimately familiar to him, so much a part of life as he had known it—made him feel a sharp grief at the thought of losing her.

"The world looks nicer with man-made lights," he said.

They drove on in silence. Neither of them could abide the chatter of radio or the intrusion of pre-recorded music. It was one of the many ways they were compatible.

"Is that it?" she said.

"Yes," he said. "What I mean is . . . Unspoiled nature is supposed to be the ultimate in perfection, isn't it, and all the man-made stuff is supposed to be a shame, just cluttering it up. But we wouldn't enjoy the world half as much if we—man . . . that is, human beings . . ."

(She gave him one of her get-on-with-it grunts.)

" . . . if we hadn't put electric lights all over it. Electric lights are actually attractive. They make a night drive like this bearable. Beautiful, even. I mean, just imagine if we had to do this drive in total darkness. Because that's what the natural state of the world is, at night, isn't it? Total darkness. Just imagine. You'd have the stress of not having a clue where you were going, not being able to see more than a few meters in front of you. And if you were heading for a city—well, in a non-technological world there wouldn't be cities, I suppose—but if you were heading for a place where other people lived, living there naturally, maybe with a few campfires . . . You wouldn't see them until you actually arrived. There wouldn't be that magical vista when you're a few miles away from a city, and all the lights are twinkling, like stars on the hillside."

"Uh-huh."

"And even inside this car, assuming you could have a car, or some sort of vehicle, in this natural world, pulled by horses I suppose . . . It would be pitch black. And very cold, too, on a winter's night. But instead, look what we've got here." He took one hand off the steering wheel (he always drove with both hands laid symmetrically on the wheel) and indicated the dashboard. The usual little lights glowed back at them. Temperature. Time. Water level. Oil. Speed. Fuel consumption.

"Peter . . ."

"Oh, look!" Several hundred meters up ahead, a tiny overburdened figure, standing in a puddle of lamplight. "A hitchhiker. I'll stop, shall I?"

"No, don't."

The tone of her voice made him think better of challenging her, even though they seldom missed an opportunity to show kindness to strangers.

The hitchhiker raised his head in hope. As the headlights enveloped him, his body was—just for an instant—transformed from a vaguely humanoid shape into a recognizably individual person. He was holding a sign that said HETHROW.

"How strange," said Peter, as they zoomed past. "You'd think he'd just take the Tube."

"Last day in the UK," said Beatrice. "Last chance to have a good time. He probably used up his British money in a pub, thinking he'd keep just enough for the train. Six drinks later he's out in the fresh air, sobering up, and all he's got left is his plane ticket and £1.70."

Excerpted from The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. Copyright © 2014 by Michel Faber. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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