Under the Skin by Michel Faber

24 April, 2013

Under the Skin

The sensation of fresh snow crunching underfoot was deeply satisfying to Isserley. Just the idea of all that water vapour solidifying by the cloudful and fluttering to earth was miraculous. She couldn’t quite believe it even after all these years. It was a phenomenon of stupendous and unjustifiably useless extravagance. Yet here it lay, soft and powdery, edibly pure. Isserley scooped a handful off the ground and ate some. It was delicious.

Isn’t that beautiful?

Under the Skin by Michel Faber was February’s choice for my book group made by Kim. I wasn’t really keen on reading anything by Faber since his most famous novel, Crimson Petal and the White, left me cold. But my book group choices often surprise me and so I picked a copy with an introduction by my favourite author, David Mitchell. For him to endorse this novel must mean it’s good, right?

And it was. I was blinded by its brilliance as it turned out to be something completely different from what I expected. I’m not going to dissect this book here because I want you to discover the twists and turns that kept me so enthralled yourself. Trust me, it’s a journey you won’t forget.

Set in Scotland, Faber’s prose immediately places you in a barren and cold land, with the sea breeze wafting on the bitter wind. It is on these isolated roads that we first meet Isserley, cruising to pick up male hitchhikers, especially ones with buff bodies. There is something gauche about Isserley, her hair is messy, her build is wrong, she squints through overly thick glasses but she has magnificent knockers which is all she needs to reel in the men. She makes you instantly wary about where this story is going. But it’s going some place you won’t expect. Back at the isolated farm, Isserley’s companions take over and drag the men away to be prepared and Isserley retreats to her cottage, grooming herself and to contemplate her life and the world in which she lives.

Apart from the plot which managed to twist and turn and slowly reveal a picture more intricate than what you will expect, Faber does a beautiful job in peeling away the layers that make the character of Isserley come alive. She is a monstrosity on the surface yet under the skin she is beautiful, a vital soul who questions and thinks deeply about her place in the universe. The beauty of nature around her touches her deeply and she experiences thoughts that don’t seem to cross the minds of her colleagues who are only engrossed in their work.

It’s been almost two months since I finished the book and I still keep thinking about it and her. You can’t help but identify with Isserley as she struggles with her past, her disfigurement and the consequences of her actions. And your heart will give a tiny leap as you watch over the subtle changes in her feelings for her boss’ beautiful and troublesome son, Amlis Vess, as she realises that he is the only other person who sees and experiences the beauty around them. There is a sense of mono no aware, a fleeting, wistful aura, in Faber’s novel which I found very moving.

One thing Under the Skin did really make me think about is what it means to be human and the choices we make as consumers. It’s a very clever book but not heavy-handed and Faber doesn’t spell things out but lets you, the reader, figure things out for yourself. The messages are there but you pick up on it slightly, unsure except for the growing horror as you realise exactly what is going on in the tale. It’s pure genius and I loved it. And I will certainly go and pick up another book by Faber.

Do go and check out Kim’s review of the book too.

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12 Responses to “Under the Skin by Michel Faber”

  1. vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas) Says:

    I have this on my wishlist (I think, from Kim’s review), and you’ve persuaded me that I really must read it!

  2. winstonsdad Says:

    Faber is high on my to try list I will get to him at some point his books always seem so different from one another ,all the best stu

  3. TracyK Says:

    I had not heard of this book; just vaguely aware of the author. It sounds compelling. I have too much to read to add it to my pile now, but if I see it at a book sale I will grab it.

  4. Shaili D. Says:

    Your review makes me want to read it…I think i shall check it out ! Thank you! 🙂

  5. Sarah Says:

    Oh my word – I read this book such a long time ago. All I can say is that it is weirdly wonderful and a complete surprise. Definitely worth reading and your review is understated enough to keep the surprise for all future readers to find our for themselves – great!

    • sakura Says:

      It’s really hard to write a summary without giving anything away but I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for anyone! You’re so right, weirdly wonderful describes it perfectly!

  6. gaskella Says:

    This has been on my shelf for some time. I know there are twists, but have avoided finding out what they are – thank you for not spoiling. I might suggest this for our book group actually … then I’ll have to read it! 🙂


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