Cover image for Under the skin
Under the skin
Faber, Michel.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2000]

Physical Description:
311 pages ; 22 cm
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Isserley picks up hitchhikers with big muscles. She, herself, is tiny-like a kid peering up over the steering wheel. She has a remarkable face and wears the thickest corrective lenses anyone has ever seen. Her posture is suggestive of some spinal problem. Her breasts are perfect; perhaps implants. She is strangely erotic yet somehow grotesque, vulnerable yet threatening. Her hitchhikers are a mixed bunch of men-trailer trash and travelling postgrads, thugs and philosophers. But Isserley isonly interested in whether they have families and whether they have muscles. Then, it's only a question of how long she can endure her pain-physical and spiritual-and their conversation. Michel Faber's work has been described as a combination of Roald Dahl and Franz Kafka, as Somerset Maugham shacking up with Ian McEwan. 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 grotesqueand comical allegory announcing the arrival of an exciting talent, rich and assured.

Author Notes

Michel Faber was born in The Hague, Netherlands on April 13, 1960. He was educated at the University of Melbourne. His books include The Crimson Petal and the White, The Fahrenheit Twins, Under the Skin, The Apple, and The Book of Strange New Things. He is also the author of two novellas, The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps and The Courage Consort. He won several short-story awards, including the Neil Gunn, Ian St James and Macallan. He made The New York Times Best Seller List with his title The Book of Strange New Things. This title also made the shortlist for the Arthur C Clarke Award for science-fiction in 2015.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Isserley is a very small woman with very large, perfect breasts and very thick glasses. She motors slowly about eastern Scotland above Edinburgh, picking up muscular male hitchhikers and, it seems, making them vanish. For its first third, Under the Skin is as suspenseful and creepy as the first third of Psycho. But while Hitchcock's harrowing film then disperses anxiety in a burst of violence, Faber relieves it only a little by starting to reveal what exactly is going on in his artful moral parable. Isserley is not what she seems, nor are any of her associates at Ablach Farm, where she is one of only two who ever leave or even live on its grounds. The others are underground. Where they all come from, resources are very scarce and the socioeconomic hierarchy very rigid, but expansive business doesn't let even the sky limit its operations. Faber's first novel smoothly morphs from a serial-murder thriller into an alien first-contact story concerned with the distinctions between humans and other species. What divides peers from prey--or perhaps the better term here is provender? That question bedevils Isserley; and her eventual answer, expressed in action, suggests that it is sympathy but that sympathy is probably futile. This is an sf or dark fantasy novel in the mode of Brave New World and Animal Farm, written as well and demonstrating, like them, how provocative genre conventions can be. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

A strange woman named Isserley roams the Scottish Highlands in search of juicy, well-muscled hitchhikers in Faber's menacing but unfulfilling debut novel (after Some Rain Must Fall, a collection of short stories). The opening chapters are suffused with an almost palpable sense of dread: Isserley picks up one hitchhiker after another and engages them in conversation, measuring them against a set of criteria of which the reader, as yet, is unaware. Some of the men are discarded and some are kept; in the process the reader learns that Isserley herself is oddly shaped, with breasts too large, legs too short, and scars everywhere. Faber's pacing here is masterful, with clues precisely dropped and details ominously described. But once Faber reveals the reason Isserley is collecting the hitchhikers (and it's truly bizarre), the book turns from horror to allegory and begins to run out of steam. The central conceit of the allegory is repugnant, but also unimpressive; it feels like something animal rights extremists might have cooked up after watching Soylent Green. Faber possesses an undeniable gift for grotesque imagery ("He grinned so broadly it was like an incision slicing his head in two"), but his unsettling prose doesn't adequately flesh out the underdeveloped premise of the story. Still, the Dutch-born and Australian-raised Faber is a strange and promising new talent, and his next novel might better use the macabre skills he so unnervingly displays here. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The publisher reports that there is lots of excitement about this quirky little import from Scotland, whose heroine--tiny, birdlike Isserley, who wears incredibly thick glasses and has a knock-out figure--picks up for mysterious reasons of her own hitchhikers with big muscles and interesting family stories. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.