EPS Review #172 - Under the Skin

Under the Skin, by Michel Faber, Canongate 2000, 296pp.

P gave me this as a quick read for our few days in a Sussex cottage. I started it, then she repossessed it and finished it before me. The blurbs ("couldn't put it down", "wish more first novels were as adventurous") were misleading as ever. The story of Isserley, an odd woman who picks up muscular male hitch-hikers on remote Scottish roads, is gripping while you figure out the motive. [ Spoilers follow. ] Unlike Never Let Me Go, which holds on to its Science Fiction premise like it is hugely original, Under the Skin lets you realise fairly soon that Isserley is an alien collecting exotic foodstuff. She has been painfully remolded from her wolf-like form to be attractive bait, and took the job because her home world is an end-game society that has polluted its environment so that the poor must work in the algae oxygen farms, and even the rich are cooped up inside.

Tim recently sent me an article, saying that Science Fiction is more philosophically interesting that the regular kind. I have been dubious about split-genre efforts like this one, but am coming to realise that it is worthwhile. Ordinary SF would have a lot more about Isserley's planet (and an unaddressed logical flaw is why they do not invade). But here the focus is on Isserley's love for the ocean and open skies, and her emotional anguish at her situation, especially when the spoiled and gorgeous son of the food-company owner pays a visit and tries to show that humans are sentient. He sees a prisoner write "MERCY" in the dirt and asks Isserley what it means. She replies that it is not language (while thinking to herself that her tongue has no word for the concept). When he also asks if sheep are edible, she is revolted by the concept of eating a fellow quadruped.

The reading pleasures are muted compared to the usual SF hurly-burly. I liked the satirical hitch-hiker vignettes, with a few pages each from their points of view. In the end, though, it was all a little tame. I liked Air better.

For some reason, cross-genre talk reminds me of old Mark Twain fantastical stories like Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven.

On a side note, I bought three Manga Shakespeare for the car ride, and such is the power of automotive boredom that all the kids read them. We have not yet tried Tim's idea, of playing language tapes in the car.

Debbie wrote: O no - horrible book - I read this a couple of years ago and afterwards could not forget the nastier details. I really hated it !

Neil wrote: sounds crap

Tim wrote: An unexpected car-audio pleasure: Just William stories, read by Martin Jarvis. They're a marvellous combination of hilarious and nostalgic.