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Under The Skin (2004)

Under the Skin (2004)

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3.71 of 5 Votes: 1
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1841954802 (ISBN13: 9781841954806)
canongate books ltd

About book Under The Skin (2004)

Under the Skin is a reviewer's nightmare - it's literally impossible to discuss this book without touching the plot, and the whole thing hinges on mystery that surrounds it. This is a novel which is all about the big reveal, and Michel Faber delights in teeeeeeasing the reader with the smallest of hints and nudges.All I can tell you, spoiler free, is this - an attractive, lone woman, Isserley, drives on the A9 motorway through the Scottish Highlands, searching for hitch-hikers. She drives along the A9 all day long, every day, looking for specific type of travelers: male, with lots of muscle mass. Isserley often drives past the same person twice to decide if he is worthy of picking up, and if he is she takes him into her car. Why is Isserley picking up the hitch-hikers? Who is she, and who are they? What is going on?Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive! This quote, wrongly attributed in the book to William Shakespeare (it's from Marmion, an epic poem by the famous Scottish poet, Sir Walter Scott) is a perfect summary of the book - which is a tangled web of deception, where nothing is quite what it appears to be. Faber throws a hook straight into our curiosity, but never explains anything directly - he only implies and insinuates, pulling us in more and more. At the beginning, when we know nothing of Isserley and her road trips and yearn to learn more, it works wonders - the book is compelling and few readers will be able to resist the call of its riddle. But once the puzzles begin to fall into place it runs out of steam amazingly quickly, and by the time the big reveal finally happens it's more embarrassing than clever - as it literally makes no sense, and doesn't hold up to any close scrutiny. Long explanation follows in the spoiler section:(view spoiler)[Throughout the book, Faber made a big deal of keeping Isserley's true identity shrouded in mystery. Is she a part of some sort religious cult, or a a sexual deviant, who keeps the poor men in her basement? Is she conducting some bizarre experiments on the hitch-hikers? The hints are there, right on the first page - puny, scrawny specimens were of no use to her - but they don't reveal anything conclusive, so it's obvious that Isserley's character is purposefully made secret, and that he will keep it so to build up suspense. Faber describes over and over again how Isserley works - how she selects the hitch-hikers, tranquilizes them, and them turns them over to a remote farm, inhabited by men whom Isserley knows and apparently works for. There the hitch-hiker is taken to an unknown fate, and Isserley drives out to look for a new one. What is this conspiracy? Who are these men, and what is going on at that farm?It was aliens all along! It turns out that Isserley is an alien from some distant planet, surgically modified and fitted with big boobs which are deemed to make her appear more attractive to human males (must have taken the aliens a millennium to research this). The hitch-hikers she picks up, tranquilizers and brings to the farm are nothing more than cattle - after they are castrated and have their tongues removed they are fattened, butchered and sent off via spaceship to the Alien Burger King. It's a cookbook!This is where the problems start to mount. Fat is no an alien delicacy, so the men Isserley brings to the farm must have low body fat - hence the need for well-muscled specimens. But why are their testicles and tongues removed? This is never explained - we can speculate that testicle removal serves as elimination of testosterone, which could either make the men more willing to make trouble or spoil the taste of their meat, but it's never stated. But why do they have their tongues removed? Most captured hitch-hikers are imprisoned in a secure basement, where they can't be neither seen or heard from the outside. Faber makes it clear that while Isserley understands human language other aliens who work at the farm don't, so they couldn't possibly communicate with the aliens to beg for their life. Details about the alien work on the farm don't make much sense either. Some captured hitch-hikers apparently undergo some surgical (?) procedures which force them to walk on all fours, and are drugged to remain calm and obedient in their cages. But when Isserley asks to see a hitch-hiker be butchered before her own eyes, it's done almost immediately - he's stripped and cut open before her eyes while he's still unconscious from the tranquilizer. Why do hitch-hikers need to be kept in the pens, if they always arrive one-by-one on an amply staffed farm and slaughtering them takes seconds, and can be done by one alien?The whole farm, which Faber takes a delight in shrouding in mystery as well, does not make any sense whatsoever. Please remember that we are dealing with an advanced alien civilization, which possesses the technology to go very far in space in seconds. They think of themselves as "Humans", and consider people who inhabit Earth as "Vodsels" - cattle animals for slaughter and consumption. So why in the world would aliens, who have technology vastly more advanced than ours, have a need for all this charade? Consider: Isserley is constantly worried about being exposed - she always talks to the men to learn if there will be anyone who will miss them if they're gone, and makes sure that no one noticed her picking them up. She wears glasses and tries to diverge the attention from her scars by pushing her breasts forward, and always obeys the speed limit. She even has a special button in her car which will literally blow it up - along with her inside it - if she is ever captured, which is exactly what happens at the end of the book. But why is it all this even necessary? Why is Isserley posing as a compassionate driver on a lonely road, and why do aliens even have a need need to maintain a farm in a remote region in northern Scotland as their butchery? Let me remind you that we're talking about a civilization technologically vastly superior to ours. Why not skip all the risks and dangers of being found out, and simply capture the men and beam them up to their home planet, where they could be fattened and prepared just the same? Why does Isserley know next to nothing about human culture,significantly lowering her chance at succesful conversation which could result in more captured men? Most importantly, why do the alien civilization even cares about being exposed by those whom they consider to be simple animals? They are shown to be physically and technologically much more powerful than we are, and could easily change the site of their operations to another part of the world, or simply exterminate/alter the memories of potential witnesses. For all their disregard for humankind they sure do care a lot about what we see or don't see! People go missing all the time, in broad daylight and crowded cities, people with families who actively look for them, sometimes for years. Many of them are never found, and for all we know they really could have been abducted by extraterrestrials - in fact that's what many people believe to have happened. Faber's whole plot - Isserley, hitch-hikers, the farm - makes no sense at all, and is there only because the author needs it to be there. This isn't even poor science fiction, it's just poor fiction, and it's why the book ultimately fails. (hide spoiler)]

Now here's a book that went from an intriguing premise, to gripping me at the first page, to totally taking over my mind - it's definitely going to be one of the best books I've read this year, I can tell you that now. I read this back in March and itched to write a review straight away, but made myself wait till it was next in line - I wish I hadn't now, because my thoughts were so buzzing at the time it would have made a more interesting and energetic review!It's also a tricky one to review, or summarise, because part of the allure and the utter absorption is in the gradual reveal of the truth, in the not-knowing, in the speculation right from the beginning. So I can't tell you what it's really about, only give you much the same outline the blurb does (which, as I re-read it now, knowing the true story, is actually quite cleverly written in the way it acts upon our assumptions - playing with language is key to this novel, but I'll get to that). Which was enough to pull me in, but others might pass it by due to lack of information.This is the story of Isserley, who drives back and forth along the Scottish highways looking for hitchhikers. Male, large, preferably unattached hitchhikers. With scars and large hands, her tiny petite frame is topped off by a pair of obviously enhanced breasts that are prominently on display. As she probes her male hitchhikers with casual questions and gets them talking, she quickly assesses whether anyone would really notice - or care - if they suddenly disappeared.If that doesn't make you wonder about what Isserley's deal is, then you probably wouldn't care for the book. For me, the notion of a woman driving around looking for male hitchhikers to kidnap, is definitely an intriguing one - if Isserley were male, looking for young women, we'd know exactly what to think. But a tiny woman who seems nervous no matter how many times she does this...? I didn't know what to think, and that was part of the initial fun. As the story unfolds and more and more clues are carefully, smoothly revealed, my mind went nuts coming up with theories. Normally, I never make an effort to predict where a story is going - I love the reveal in the hands of a skilled writer, and I don't see reading as a race to be right and outwit the author. I certainly didn't want to outwit Faber; I loved the excitement, the not-knowing, the guessing and revising of said guesses, as the truth became apparent. And "excitement" is just the word for it: it was more fun than being on a roller-coaster! I got a kind of adrenaline rush and found it extremely hard to put the book down, even after the truth came out.Even after every last truth is out, that's only half the book - by then you're hopefully hooked and in an odd way, sympathetic - at least, I was. I had no trouble identifying with Isserley, if I can use that word. I love being confronted in fiction, and having assumptions turned on their head. While the second half is quite different from the first - and I can't use the genre name I'd like to because that would be leading! - it was equally, if vastly differently, fascinating. I itched to know more and more, and without a doubt by the end I was sympathetic, despite it all. And that only adds to my fascination, because on a reasonable level, I shouldn't be. (Then again, I even found Humbert Humbert strangely sympathetic - in a disturbing way - in Lolita. I actually enjoy being pulled out of my comfort zone, seeing a different perspective - even if it's ultimately "wrong" - and trying to understand a different way of thinking.)Not being able to "reveal" what's really going on in the novel does make it hard to talk about all the things this book makes me so eager to discuss, especially language. I'm chaffing at the bit here! Under the Skin is such an intelligent novel, hugely thought-provoking and fascinating. I loved the way Faber used language to present an alien - to us - perspective, a different view of things, and turn our own comfort zone, assumptions and sense of righteousness on their head. I've read Fantasy novels (with blends of Sci-Fi) that do the same kind of thing, and they're some of my favourite books in the genre (sadly there aren't many of those around; most are disappointingly generic). For instance, the play on the words "human" and "animal" are hugely confronting and rather mind-bending, and really highlight the power of words, language and our ownership of them. I wish I could go into it in more details but always when I write reviews I'm conscious of wanting to give others the opportunity to experience books the way I do, to start a book with a sense of anticipation and wonder and let the story tell itself, rather than have a reviewer's words tell them what to think and expect. So as much as I want to keep talking about this fantastic book - which, I must emphasise, is truly weird and not everyone's cup of tea - I will stop here.

Do You like book Under The Skin (2004)?

Hmmm... What can I say about this book... I didn't dislike it and yet.. I wasn't entirely sure why I kept reading - I think I probably wanted more grissly details... which unfortunately never came! It certainly wasn't the kind of read I was expecting from Michael Faber and I felt that the plot didn't really expand any further by the end of the book than it had in the first few pages. It hasn't put me off Michael Faber because I enjoy his style of writing.. would I recommend you pick this up...? Yes, just because it's so very 'odd' really..
—Simonne Davis

Caution, spoilers! A modern fable on any number of potential issues—animal cruelty? corporate greed? human brutality?—set in a version of the Highlands where multiple people hitchhike each day (I go frequently to the Highlands and I’ve never seen no hitchhikers—maybe Faber ate them all?) The story begins with our big-breasted heroine Isserley picking up a series of unemployed assholes and stabbing them in the buttocks with a stun chemical activated via her dashboard. She drives her victims, known as vodsels, to a secret plant where they are carved up and turned into gibbering grunting animals to be farmed for boutique meat. The story focuses on Isserley’s desire for freedom—she fled her homeland and her own kind (some human/bear hybrid creature) to take the fresh air of Scotland—as she struggles to adapt to her new vodsel body (her kind call themselves human beings) and fight the tyrannising corporate machine of her hometown, where she began life as a slave. The story is endearingly strange, extremely brutal, and is left pantingly open to interpretation. As a lapsed vegan I read the story from an animal perspective: vodsel farming being almost as brutal as cow or chicken farming (but not quite). On the whole: Faber invokes the warped worlds of Will Self, especially Great Apes, David Twohy’s underrated sci-fi thriller The Arrival, and early Gene Hackman flick Prime Cut. It’s all here in this subcutaneous chillerfest.
—MJ Nicholls

I am thisclose to giving this book 4.5 stars -- I found it verynearly amazing, but it fell just slightly short of that for me. Here's my advice for anyone interested in reading this book -- do not read ANYTHING about it before reading. Don't read reviews, don't read the back cover, don't even read the blurbs on the front. Just go into it completely cold.So, having said that, what in the world can I say about this book without ruining it?I can tell you that it opens with a woman named Isserley driving through the Scottish Highlands, sizing up hitch-hikers. She's looking for men, but only a certain type of man -- big and muscular. Why she's so interested in these men is revealed oooooh sooooo sloooooowly, and the author builds a lot of tension into the process of discovering Isserley's motives.Going into this book, I THOUGHT I knew what was going on, only to find out that it really wasn't what I'd been expecting. I thought the direction Faber took was very interesting -- I found it very provocative, and it raised a lot of questions for me.The book did bog down just a bit about half-way or three quarters through -- the story reached a point where I wanted it to make a Very Important Statement, but the author chose, instead, to take it a bit farther and explore a new direction. At the end, I liked what he did with the story, although I do still think there were some parts that could have been sacrificed in order to move the story along a bit.I would dearly love to see this -- somehow -- made into a film. I had not trouble at all envisioning the story as I read it, and I wish I could see what a director would make of it.

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