“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.
So begins Michel Faber’s first novel: a lone female scouts the Scottish Highlands in search of well-proportioned men and the reader is given to expect the unfolding of some latter-day psychosexual drama. But commonplace expectation is no guide for this strange and deeply unsettling book; small details at first, then more major clues, suggest that something deeply bizarre is afoot. What are the reason’s for Isserley’s extensive surgical scarring, her thick glasses (which are just glass), her excruciating backache? Who are the solitary few who work on the farm where her cottage is located? And why are they all nervous about the arrival of someone called Amlis Vess?
The ensuing narrative is one of such cumulative, compelling strangeness that it almost defies description–the one thing that can be said with certainty is that Under The Skin is unlike anything else you have ever read. The result is a narrative of enormous imaginative and emotional coherence from a writer whose control of his medium is nearly flawless and who applies the rules of psychological realism to a fictional world that is terrifying and unearthly to the point that the reader’s identification with Isserley becomes one of absolute sympathy.”
What I thought:
I really did not enjoy this book! It is not often I am this blatant about a book when I have actually finished it but I honestly couldn’t find any redeeming qualities at all. What I am even more annoyed about is that I kept on reading thinking that at least there would be some big revelation and reward for my time invested in reading it.
It’s really difficult to say anything about Under the Skin without giving anything away but to summarise as much as I can without ruining it for anyone else brave enough to give it a go, it starts with a woman, Isserley, with huge breasts and bottle-top glasses driving up and down the A9 in the Scottish Highlands looking for hitch-hikers. She does this all day, every day and she has a particular type that she picks up (hence she can drive past the same person several times before deciding whether or not he is worth picking up). Her type is big, beefy men with lots of muscle. Anyone with a weedy frame is dismissed (and lucky for them, although they don’t know it at the time). That is about as much as I can say about the plot, but it doesn’t mean I have to stop ranting about the rest of it; hell no!
This book is weird, it doesn’t make sense, it freaked me out massively, it made me feel sick and at the end I didn’t have a resolution or “aha” moment that I was craving due to having no idea what was going on in the rest of the book. I can honestly say that this is like nothing else I have ever read and I am still unsure exactly how I felt about it other than knowing that it horrified me. I couldn’t engage with any of the characters but I think that is partly because I didn’t want to get close to them at all.
On Amazon and Goodreads there are really mixed reviews of Under the Skin – some love and some hate it. Judith from Leeswammes loves it (and it’s always good to have several takes on a book so that you can make the decision of whether it might be for you or not).
Fortunatley I have heard that this book is very different from The Crimson Petal and the White by the same author (which I had planned to read at some point this year).
When I handed this book back in at the library I told the Librarian how much I had hated it and she told me that when she worked in a bookshop they used to have a whole shelf called “Books we hated” where they would write little cards saying how much and why they hated the book. She told me that the books on this shelf always sold like hotcakes! After this review, I fully expect sales of Under the Skin to soar and I duly await my commission from Mr Faber 😉
Are you brave enough?
(source: I got my copy of this book from the library)