''Game of Thrones'' exec producer David Benioff didn't know who Michel Faber was — but after reading his captivating literary exploration of faith and science, ''The Book of Strange New Things,'' he couldn't wait to interview him
David Benioff (Co-showrunner, Game of Thrones) Congratulations to you! This is a beautiful novel. I didn’t think I’d have time to read it, but then I started the first few pages just to be polite. And then I got sucked into it and truly fell in love.
Michel Faber I don’t have a television, so I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. There’s this awkwardness about someone really loving my book and me having no idea who they are! Then my publisher said, ”Well, he’s written a novel called City of Thieves.” So I read it, and it’s really good.
Benioff Thank you! First of all, it’s been 12 years since The Crimson Petal and the White. That was quite a wait for people who were so in love with that novel.
Faber When The Crimson Petal came out, I did some touring for it and I got very peopled out. I’m really quite a private person, so I’d shaken a lot of hands and gone to a lot of places. The other thing is that at that point, Britain had followed the USA into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and I got very despondent about the role of writers when awful world events are going on. At that point, I felt perhaps the most dignified thing to do was to shut up and not say anything. I started writing The Book of Strange New Things probably in 2006 or 2007. I wanted to take a journey into the dark and not know where it was going to take me. Then my wife got diagnosed with cancer. So that was really the wrong sort of book for me to be writing in that kind of circumstance. It was very difficult to find the head space to do that given what was in my head at the time.
Benioff It’s so interesting. When I heard about your wife’s illness, I assumed that the impetus of the book came out of that, but actually you had the idea for the story, it sounds like, long before the diagnosis.
Faber Sure. What you say is perceptive — the book does very much deal with illness, and it ended up dealing with my wife’s illness. That’s one of the advantages of a book where you are taking a journey into the dark — it means that you can feed on things that are going on in your life.
Benioff Do you worry that people of faith might be insulted by some of the themes?
Faber I was talking to someone from the publishing company about this, and she said that hard-line fundamentalists only read hard-line-fundamentalist literature, so there’s no way they’re going to read The Book of Strange New Things.
Benioff A few weeks ago I saw the movie Under the Skin, which was based on your novel. It was beautiful, and I had the strange experience of reading the book after seeing the movie. They’re completely different. I was curious what you thought of the movie given that it takes the basic premise of your story and then goes in a completely different direction.
Faber They are completely different, aren’t they? I was delighted by that. What I really would not want is to have a faithful but mediocre version of one of my books. That would be the worst of all possible worlds. A short story that I wrote some years ago called “The Fahrenheit Twins” was adapted into a stage play, and the novella was really quiet and eerie and spooky. The people who adapted it for the stage made it into this incredibly high-octane, knockabout extravaganza, and it was terrific!
Benioff It’s good to hear that faithless but brilliant is better for you than faith and mediocrity. Will The Book of Strange New Things be adapted?
Faber It’s going to be a TV series, and they’re going to see if it’s got narrative legs for a number of series. It’s a good team that’s tackling it, and it’s got to be very different from the novel, and that will be a plus in my mind.
Benioff Was it a relief going to another world in this novel and getting away from this one?
Faber Yes. That was part of the original impetus — to do a novel that had no human beings in it whatsoever and was entirely peopled by aliens on another planet. One of the things about these aliens that’s genuinely attractive to me is the way they don’t play emotional games. They’re completely on the level. But the cost of that is that they’re in some ways cheap, or like bees in a hive. I think once creatures have emotional complexity, there are various dysfunctions that come with that. For a long time, I wasn’t willing to accept that. I was just fed up. But now I actually feel more love for human beings than I have at any other time in my life. I think that good writers are torn between hating the human race and loving it too much, and at this stage of my life, I tend to get swamped by the essential goodness of most people. I hope that lasts until I die, because cynicism is no fun.