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Under the Skin (2004)

by Michel Faber

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2,4731226,115 (3.73)220
Fiction. Literature. HTML:

Hailed as "original and unsettling, an Animal Farm for the new century" (The Wall Street Journal), this first novel lingers long after the last page has been turned.

Described as a "fascinating psychological thriller" (The Baltimore Sun), this entrancing novel introduces Isserley, a female driver who picks up hitchhikers with big muscles. She, herself, is tiny-like a kid peering up over the steering wheel. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. At once humane and horrifying, Under the Skin takes us on a heart-thumping ride through dangerous territory-our own moral instincts and the boundaries of compassion. A grotesque and comical allegory, a surreal representation of contemporary society run amok, Under the Skin has been internationally received as the arrival of an exciting talent, rich and assured.

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» See also 220 mentions

English (110)  Dutch (6)  Spanish (2)  Italian (2)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (122)
Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
Truly bizarre horror/scifi tale of female driver who picks up hitchhikers who to be fattened for slaughter and fed to denizens of another planet. Excellent writing, and compelling but unfortunate content such that I can recommend to no one. I am not a horror fan so those of you who are might be better informed by this review http://www.ralphmag.org/AW/under-skin.html ( )
  featherbooks | May 7, 2024 |
'Under The Skin' is a bleak, unremittingly grim book that's as hard to look away from as a car crash in progress. The writing grabbed hold of me and never let go. Geri Halligan's narration perfectly captured the mood of the piece and the pace of the plot. It was a memorable and disturbing read that I still find myself thinking about weeks later.

I'm not going to reveal the plot because I think that part of the power of the book comes from trying to work out who Isserley is and why she spends most of her time driving on the A9 in Scotland searching for well-built male hitchers to pick up.

'Under The Skin' has a lot of the attributes of Speculative Fiction Thriller. It's clear from the beginning that this is not a tale of everyday folk who cruise Scottish roads looking for men. There is something off about Isserley and that sense of not-what-she-seems-to-be grows as the reader spends more time with her. She is on some kind of mysterious covert mission that seems likely to involve violence and yet is something that Isserley regards as routine.

Yet, for me, 'Under The Skin' is not a genre read. It doesn't share the intent of a thriller to produce tension for tension's sake or of speculative fiction to present a What If? thought experiment. It sets out to do something darker, more serious and more disturbing. The genre trappings are there to disrupt the readers' everyday expectations and make them look at things with fresh eyes.

A lot of the book is about Isserley's rage. She has been betrayed, abused and forced into hard choices that have fundamentally and irrevocably changed her into someone she barely recognises. Isserley's rage isn't on the surface. She tries to suppress it, to make the most of her situation, to convince herself that she has found the best form of freedom available to her and to lose herself in small moments of peace. None of this abates her rage, and the stress on her increases when the routine that she uses to numb herself is disrupted by the arrival of a member of the elite who Isserley had once thought herself protected by. Isserley's pain, physical and emotional soak the pages of this book and stay in the reader's nostrils long after the last page.

What makes this darker is that Isserley is a predator as well as a victim. Being a predator is part of what lets her sleep at night. It's not that she takes pleasure in it but rather that it gives her a purpose and a sense of being in control. That Isserley's experiences of abuse and pain do not translate into any form of empathy for the people she preys on felt plausible to me. Isserley and those around her are able to do what they do because they compartmentalise their thinking. They make no links between their own experiences and needs and those of the people that the prey on. This felt very real to me.

With one exception, the story is told from Isserley's point of view using the close third-person. This was a very effective way of giving the reader intimate access to Isserley's thoughts and emotions while still keeping her at arm's length, inviting the reader to analyse and judge rather than immerse and empathise 

The exception to the close third-person applies to the hitchers that Isserley picks up. The reader gets an unfiltered interior monologue from each hitcher as they assess Isserley once they get in the car. I thought these monologues were wonderful. Apart from being large, fit and male, the hitchers had very little in common. Hearing their thoughts, each with its distinctive idiolect, made them real to me in a very short time. It created more intimacy with them, whether they were likeable or not, than I was given with Isserley and helped me to see how little Isserley understood about the men she picked up.

Meat is central to this story. I've been a vegetrarian for three decades now but if I had been a carnivore thee are scenes in this book that would have made me reconsider my food choices.

The book took me to places and thoughts that I hadn't expected. The ending was a surprise but a satisfying that did nothing to relieve the oppressive bleakness of the story.

If you're in the mood for something dark and different that does more than entertain, then I recommend this book to you. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | Feb 14, 2024 |
Well. I fail to see what all the fuss is about. I think it's probably because Faber is mixing genres: it is marketed as literature, while to me it is clearly science fiction. I wonder if this novel would have gotten as much acclaim if it would have been a little less pretentious. Not to say it's a bad book. It was interesting. What I liked the most was the slow reveal of what was going on, aided by tricking the reader a bit by our preconceived notions. But all the 'big issues' that I suppose is what makes this literature I thought were obvious. Sure, interesting enough (although I think it is more about the meat industry then about what makes humans human), but not that mind blowing. I really think the fuss is due to the fact that this is read by non-SF readers who are more suprised by some of the notions. ( )
  zjakkelien | Jan 2, 2024 |
Lent to me by Peter Collingridge. A thought-provoking read, with plenty of mystery and philosophy bound up.

It is _very_ difficult to say much about it without giving away things a reader is better off discovering for themselves. Overall, it is a really engaging, well written book - weird, unnerving, with interesting, well-defined characters and nicely detailed, very intriguing, plot.

The mysteries within the book are revealed very gradually throughout the book. To be honest, I do find this slow reveal a little bit of an aggravating technique - unless the protagonist is on the same journey as the reader (and sometimes even then), it can painfully highlight the artificiality of the form. I don't think this book quite stayed on the right side of the line - I was a little too aware of the author dropping information to the grateful reader. That said, it is certainly an effective technique. And, beyond that, I appreciated what we were not told - there were lots of areas where we are left speculating at unexpanded and intriguing details, which I _do_ find appealing.

There are questions raised throughout about the nature of our relationships to other animals. Apart from that most obvious one, there are lots of interesting themes about class and freedom and the sacrifices and choices that we make. It emphasises the beauty in the world, and also of our lives, in all their banality and struggle. Ultimately, it makes you consider what it is that confers humanity on an animal.

( )
  thisisstephenbetts | Nov 25, 2023 |
Hmmmmmm... ( )
  lemontwist | Sep 4, 2023 |
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Thanks to Jeff and Fuggo
and especially to my wife, Eva,
for bringing me back to earth
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Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up.
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Fiction. Literature. HTML:

Hailed as "original and unsettling, an Animal Farm for the new century" (The Wall Street Journal), this first novel lingers long after the last page has been turned.

Described as a "fascinating psychological thriller" (The Baltimore Sun), this entrancing novel introduces Isserley, a female driver who picks up hitchhikers with big muscles. She, herself, is tiny-like a kid peering up over the steering wheel. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. At once humane and horrifying, Under the Skin takes us on a heart-thumping ride through dangerous territory-our own moral instincts and the boundaries of compassion. A grotesque and comical allegory, a surreal representation of contemporary society run amok, Under the Skin has been internationally received as the arrival of an exciting talent, rich and assured.

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