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Authors: Michel Faber

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The Book of Strange New Things

BOOK: The Book of Strange New Things
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Also by Michel Faber

Some Rain Must Fall and Other Stories

Under the Skin

The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps

The Courage Consort

The Crimson Petal and the White

The Fahrenheit Twins

The Apple

The Fire Gospel

 

 

THE BOOK OF
STRANGE NEW
THINGS

Michel Faber

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Great Britain in 2014 by
Canongate Books Ltd, 14 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TE

www.canongate.tv

This digital edition first published in 2014 by Canongate Books

Copyright © Michel Faber, 2014

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available on request from the British Library

ISBN: 978 1 78211 406 2

Export ISBN: 978 1 78211 407 9
ePub ISBN: 978 1 78211 409 3

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologises for any errors or omissions and would be grateful to be notified of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book.

Typeset in Perpetua, ITC OfficinaSans LT Book and We Come In Peace by Palimpsest Book Production Ltd, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Eva, always.

 

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

I Thy Will Be Done

1 Forty minutes later he was up in the sky
2 He would never see other humans the same way again
3 The grand adventure could surely wait
4 ‘Hello everybody,’ he said
5 Just as he recognised them for what they were
6 His whole life had been leading up to this
7 Approved, transmitted
8 Take a deep breath and count to a million
9 The choir resumed

II On Earth

10 The happiest day of my life
11 He realised for the first time that she was beautiful, too
12 Looking back, almost certainly, that was when it happened
13 The engine kindled into life
14 Lost in the mighty unison
15 Hero of the moment, king of the day
16 Toppling off an axis, falling through space
17 Still blinking under the word ‘here’
18 I need to talk to you, she said
19 He would learn it if it killed him
20 Everything would be all right if she only could

III As It Is

21 There is no God, she wrote
22 Alone with you by my side

IV In Heaven

23 A drink with you
24 The Technique of Jesus
25 Some of us have work to do
26 He only knew that thanks were due
27 Stay where you are
28 Amen

Acknowledgements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NB There is script throughout the book used to denote the Oasan language – the appearance of these characters is intentional and does not constitute an error in the text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I

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 metres 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 metres up ahead, a tiny over-burdened 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 recognisably 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.’

It sounded plausible. But if it was true, then why leave this lost sheep in the lurch? It wasn’t like Bea to leave anybody stranded.

He turned towards her darkened face again, and was alarmed to see teardrops twinkling on her jaw and in the corners of her mouth.

‘Peter . . . ’ she said.

He took one hand off the steering wheel again, this time to squeeze her shoulder. Suspended over the highway up ahead was a sign with a symbol of an aeroplane on it.

‘Peter, this is our last chance.’

‘Last chance?’

‘To make love.’

The indicator lights flashed gently and went tick, tick, tick, as he eased the car into the airport lane. The words ‘make love’ bumbled against his brain, trying to get in, even though there was no room in there. He almost said, ‘You’re joking.’ But, even though she had a fine sense of humour and loved to laugh, she never joked about things that mattered.

As he drove on, the sense that they were not on the same page – that they needed different things at this crucial time – entered the car like a discomfiting presence. He’d thought – he’d felt – that yesterday morning had been their proper leavetaking, and that this trip to the airport was just . . . a postscript, almost. Yesterday morning had been so
right
. They’d finally worked their way to the bottom of their ‘To Do’ list. His bag was already packed. Bea had the day off work, they’d slept like logs, they’d woken up to brilliant sunshine warming the yellow duvet of their bed. Joshua the cat had been lying in a comical pose at their feet; they’d nudged him off and made love, without speaking, slowly and with great tenderness. Afterwards, Joshua had jumped back on the bed and tentatively laid one forepaw on Peter’s naked shin, as if to say,
Don’t go; I will hold you here
. It was a poignant moment, expressing the situation better than language could have, or perhaps it was just that the exotic cuteness of the cat put a protective furry layer over the raw human pain, making it endurable. Whatever. It was perfection. They’d lain there listening to Joshua’s throaty purr, enfolded in each other’s arms, their sweat evaporating in the sun, their heart-rates gradually reverting to normal.

‘One more time,’ she said to him now, above the engine noise on a dark motorway on the way to the plane that would take him to America and beyond.

He consulted the digital clock on the dashboard. He was supposed to be at the check-in counter in two hours; they were about fifteen minutes from the airport.

‘You’re wonderful,’ he said. Perhaps if he pronounced the words in exactly the right way, she might get the message that they shouldn’t try to improve on yesterday, that they should just leave it at that.

‘I don’t want to be wonderful,’ she said. ‘I want you inside me.’

He drove for a few seconds in silence, adjusting quickly to the circumstances. Prompt adjustment to changed circumstances was another thing they had in common.

‘There are lots of those horrible corporate hotels right near the airport,’ he said. ‘We could rent a room just for an hour.’ He regretted the ‘horrible’ bit; it sounded as though he was trying to dissuade her while pretending not to. He only meant that the hotels were the sort they both avoided if they possibly could.

‘Just find a quiet lay-by,’ she said. ‘We can do it in the car.’

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