Not a review – UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber

Well, my first book is read for 2015. Started it yesterday, finished it today (but before that had read a couple of pages of the next Karl Ove (number 2) as well as continuing with a re-read of John Irving’s The Water Method Man – must be the fourth time I’ve read that book). But I’ve decided to do not-reviews as I finish books through this year. Let’s see how it goes. I was compelled to seek out Faber’s other novels after really really loving his The Book of Strange New Things, which I read late last year. This is, again, so original, but in some ways, I thought it was almost an inverse of Strange New Things. Under the Skin is about a woman, Isserley*, who cruises the Scottish highways, looking for hitch-hikers. She has an exacting list of criteria. They must be male, well-built and not have anyone waiting for them at home. What happens to the men she picks up, and what slowly becomes apparent to the reader as being the intrinsic memorable thing about Isserley, makes for gripping reading. It’s so very smart. It also has a really sad dedication:

Thanks to Jeff and Fuggo and especially to my wife Eva, for bringing me back to earth.

Now fifteen years later, Eva is not alive any more. If you haven’t read his most recent book, it is a heartbreaking tribute to her. In my soppy romantic mind, anyway. Under the Skin is described on wiki as:

[defying] easy categorisation, combining elements of the science fiction, horror and thriller genres, handled with sufficient depth and nuance to win almost unanimous praise from literary critics

The book is written well, the prose is grabby, however I did feel a couple of tired expressions snuck in, though I wasn’t sure whether that was because the main character, whose point of view we (mostly) follow had learned English from television, and had picked the clichés up from there. Apart from those few instances, along with the dipping into the hitchhikers’ heads (a writer choice that seems inexplicable until we meet the last hitchhiker when it becomes clearer why Faber may have chosen to do this), I really enjoyed this book. This was Faber’s first novel, published in 2000, and when you think of that, mein gott, what a concept, and so nicely done. And because I’m all about covers at the moment, the book I have is I think a movie tie-in and features this image:


I’ll be interested to watch the film but from what I can see of still shots, Scarlett Johansson is nothing physically like the Isserley of the book. Here are other covers. I would have preferred the first one but the book shop I bought my copy from ordered it across from their other store, so I didn’t feel I could say ‘I HATE IT’:

Under-the-Skin-Coverunder-the-skinunder-the-skin (1)underskinunderskin3undertheskin2

* Many of the names in this book were strange. Isserley has one anagram, according to anagram solver: Seriesly. Maybe I am seeing shadows where there are none.

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