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This has become my latest "Favourite" book, you know the one you want to read and read again. It doesn't matter in the slightest that I have read this book before, it is so well written and constructed that it still engages me . I think I have possibly read it at least once a year since I got it in 2000. If anyone ever asks me to recommend a book that is a little different, it is this one I would recommend. I've read all of Michel Faber's books apart the collections of short stories, because I've never found them in the bookshop, but not for want of looking.

As I say, I've read this novel several times, and whilst at university wrote a brief review of it. Below is the review .

Under the Skin. Michel Faber. Century Publishing. £6.99 296 pages.
Thriller, suspense, or horror? I’m not sure which genre Under the Skin falls into, the blurb on the back of the book isn’t either. Therefore to write a normal review would not do the book justice. No, Under the Skin is not a weird, minor cult type book, it just defies classification. Fans of Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory would probably enjoy the twists in the plot, yet it is not necessary to have read Wasp Factory to enjoy this novel.

Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her.” (p 1).

The opening page introduces us to the main character, Isserley, and the fact that she picks up hitch hikers, and we are told that she is selective. The plot unfolds slowly, giving enough information to keep the reader engaged, whilst not spoiling the suspense.
Under the Skin introduces the reader to a world where the normal is abnormal, and vice-versa. The heroine and her work colleagues are not what the reader would expect. Isserley’s true identity is not revealed until she meets her employer’s son. Even then we are not told directly what she looks like, but are left to draw our own conclusions, after a detailed description of Amlis Vess. Her aim in life is not at all genteel, or ordinary, her living conditions unusual.

“The bathtub was clean but a little rusty, as was the sink. The yawning interior of the lidless toilet bowl, by contrast, was the colour and texture of bark; it had not been used for at least as long as Isserley had lived here.” (67)

The omniscient narrator does not seem biased, reporting all thoughts and actions equally. Even the fate of the hitch-hikers is not the obvious one that the reader would assume from the all-seeing narrator’s balanced narration.

“She tried to project herself forward in time, visualizing herself already parked somewhere with a hunky young hitch-hiker sitting next to her; she imagined herself breathing heavily against him as she smoothed her hair and grasped him round the waist to ease him into position.” (7)

And from the viewpoint of one of the hitch hikers picked up by Isserley:

“Maybe he was being a hypocrite. He did recognise this woman as… well…a woman, surely? She was a female; he was a male. These were eternal realities. And, let’s face it, she was wearing amazingly little clothing for the weather. He hadn’t seen so much cleavage in public since well before the snows had set in.” (202)

If certain other indicators were not given, the reader could be forgiven in thinking this novel was just warming up to be a kinky sex romp. However, we are disillusioned from having any such silly thoughts at the end of the first chapter, and are given a hint at what might be the true situation.

Isserley flipped another toggle, her fingers trembling ever so slightly. The gentle tick of the indicator lights set the rhythm of her breathing as she allowed the car to drift off the road and smoothly enter the lay-by. The speedometer wobbled to zero; the car stopped moving; the engine stalled, or maybe she turned off the ignition. It was over.
As always at this moment, she saw herself as if from a height; an aerial view of her little red Toyota parked in its little asphalt parenthesis. The FARMFOODS lorry roared past on the straight.” (21).

The novel is set north of Glasgow/ Edinburgh, the location never being named directly. Although geographical pointers are given. This choice of setting is crucial to the plot, as the novel could not be credible if it had been located in a more approachable site. The disappearance of the hitch hikers would have been more noticeable elsewhere, and Isserley’s method of assessing their worth impractical in a more highly populated area. The language is easily accessible, encouraging the reader to read on. Without giving too much away all I can say is, Under the Skin is a very user-friendly novel, with a totally unexpected storyline, which is gradually revealed as the novel progresses. I believe it is in the process of being filmed. This is one adaptation I will try to see on the screen.

For further information on Michel Faber.

1 Comment:

  1. Canongate Books said...
    Hi Sea, I'm writing from Canongate Books, Michel Faber's UK publisher. I found your site through a Google Alert, and I was wondering if you'd like to be notified of upcoming publications (on a month-to-month basis). You can request review copies of books, of course. If you are interested, please email me and I'll put you on the email list.


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