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Books, Reviews

Michel Faber’s Under The Skin

Wowzers, it’s been a while! I know, I know: I’m a bad blog-father. I won’t bother trying to defend myself. Rather, I submit here to you, Internet, a review of Michel Faber’s Under The Skin, an excellent novel I just finished reading, published first on my Goodreads account. This novel blew me away.

The cover of Michel Faber's "Under The Skin"

This book is just so startlingly original, I am having a very difficult time even finding a similar novel to compare it to. It’s both a novel of unique science-fiction and spooky horror, maintaining a “literary” tone throughout. It’s a piece of contemporary “literary” fiction through and through, but its plot could be ripped from a dark dystopian genre novel. The work is filled with beautifully concise writing that does away with unnecessary details while instilling simple natural phenomena with a earnest child’s sense of awe and wonder.

And yet these descriptions do not do the work justice. It must be read and experienced to be believed.

The plot summary is intriguing, to say the least: A short, odd-looking though large-breasted woman named Isserley drives up and down the A9 highway in the Scottish Highlands every day, looking for hitchhikers, but only male hitchhikers who meet a very specific set of physical criteria. The first twenty-five pages of the novel leave you with so many questions: Why is Isserley picking these hitchers up? Why must they be so well-built? What is happening to them when she leaves them at “The Farm?” Why is she in pain just driving along the road? Why do her interactions with these hitchers seem so strained and forced? The author does indeed answer these questions (and raise many more) throughout the course of the novel’s quick 300 pages.

(Sidenote: Do not look at the Wikipedia page for this book; it gives away the entire plot that Faber works so hard to elegantly disguise, making the book a much-less intriguing read. Thankfully, I avoided the page until I finished the novel.)

Faber did a masterful job at gradually revealing vital plot points, bit by bit, until readers are filled with a consuming desire to understand just what is happening in the twisted world of “Under The Skin.” From the novel’s first paragraph, a sense of unease and wrongness pervade the pages, making the whole reading experience delightfully unsettling. Though the novel is mostly plot-driven, Isserley’s original blend of moral dilemma, physical struggle and fierce independence create an indelible character who will stick with you long after you shut the book one final time. And Isserley is not the only thing haunting about “Under The Skin”; I would be hard-pressed to find another novel I’ve read recently that raises so many discussion questions. An excellent debut novel from an extremely talented, genre-bending author.

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About Cory Hershberger

Neurotic/eclectic critic obsessed with pop culture who enjoys good food, good company, and, most of all, good books.

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"Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind."

-Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

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