Under The Skin by Michael Faber. This review is by John Cook

 

Under the Skin

 

 

Under The Skin
by Michel Faber

2001

What is it about Scots authors when they decide to go weird? Except this author was born Dutch, emigrated to Australia where he acquired a degree with specialisation in Anglo-Saxon, then emigrated to Scotland with his wife. Perhaps it’s in the water.

I found this a fascinating read and have not viewed the movie based on it which stars Scarlet Johannson. It apparently retains much of the theme but is very different in presentation.

Two things in this book develop from obscurity to some clarity. One is the factual nature of who Isserley is, where she is from and what is the purpose in her being where she is. Consequently there are factual details which are presented with minimal detail and maximum gruesome suggestion. The other is the series of gradual reveals which gather insight into an alien mind that finds itself in a brutally cold but beautiful environment interacting with humans (and animals) who fluctuate between being viewed as potential meals, sympathy and even identification. If there is a linking theme, it delves into the nature of what it is to be a sentient, seeking being remembering that even the aliens in this story think of themselves as human. There is nothing within and without our galaxy that is different about greed, superiority and alienation. I found the descriptive passages to be very good indeed with an appropriately cut crystal clarity. The prose is excellent.

I have rarely been so challenged to identify with a more unlikely person as Isserley with her jumbled physical appearance and over-sized breasts used as bait as she slowly trolls the chilly roads and byways. At the same time, there are flashes of humour and insights into human character and that wonderful landscape.

There is a gradual plot development that consists of a repeated process, each time with some significant accretion in personal development and pointers to a conclusion. When the anticipated end does occur, I found it a little disappointing though understandable.

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