Going into Michel Faber’s novel, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was it involved a mysterious woman who picked up hitchhikers and somehow made them disappear. After reading this beautiful, thought-provoking tale, I learned that it was so much more than the simple plot I had in mind originally. The story follows Isserley, who picks up “vodsels” off the side of the road and delivers them to her employers. Isserley herself isn’t quite normal, and her true self is slowly exposed over the course of the novel.
I loved how Isserley isn’t a clear-cut hero or villain, and her backstory is powerful yet still kept partially in the shadows. Faber’s magical prose beautifully makes Scotland pop off the page, and the in-depth descriptions of each character adds weight and layers to this tale. I also enjoyed the slow-burn of the plot, and was eager to see what would happen next.
The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the continuous talk of Isserley’s breasts. Every male she encountered thought about them (the book includes the men’s thoughts as Isserley picks them up). This could be interpreted as the typical male gaze and how it can be shallow and damaging, but reading over and over again about how great they were became repetitive and tiring. Under the Skin can be graphic at points, but it adds to the narrative and doesn’t feel gratuitous (even though it probably should be avoided by those weak of stomach).
Overall, this is an intriguing, shocking, mystical novel that you should read if you love slow-burn science fiction with heady themes. Under the Skin examines what it means to be human, and how we all have a story. I’ll definitely be reading more of Faber’s work now.
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