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Under The Skin [Paperback]

Michel Faber
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 16 2004

Michel Faber’s debut novel was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread First Novel Award and received astounding critical acclaim and a cult following. An imaginative, gripping work in a genre of its own, Under the Skin centres around Isserley, a female driver who picks up male hitchhikers with big muscles. A horrifying, heart-thumping ride through dangerous moral territory, Under the Skin is by turns funny, macabre and deeply affecting.

“A fascinating book.... The fantastic is so nicely played against the day-to-day that one feels the strangeness of both.... Remarkable.” The New York Times Book Review

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In the opening pages of Under the Skin, a lone female is scouting the Scottish Highlands in search of well-proportioned men: "Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her." At this point, the reader might be forgiven for anticipating some run-of-the-mill psychosexual drama. But commonplace expectation is no help when it comes to Michel Faber's strange and unsettling first novel; small details, then major clues, suggest that something deeply bizarre is afoot. What are the reasons for Isserley's extensive surgical scarring, her thick glasses, her excruciating backache? Who are the solitary few who work on the farm where her cottage is located? And why are they all nervous about the arrival of someone called Amlis Vess?

The ensuing narrative is of such cumulative, compelling strangeness that it almost defies description. The one thing that can be said with certainty is that Under the Skin is unlike anything else you have ever read. Faber's control of his medium is nearly flawless. Applying the rules of psychological realism to a fictional world that is both terrifying and unearthly, he nonetheless compels the reader's absolute identification with Isserley. Not even the author's fine short-story collection, Some Rain Must Fall, prepared us for such mastery. Under the Skin is ultimately a reviewer's nightmare and a reader's dream: a book so distinctive, so elegantly written, and so original that one can only urge everybody in earshot to experience it, and soon. --Burhan Tufail --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Easy pick-up Feb. 5 2011
The intrigue at the start of Michel Faber's debut quickly draws the reader in: Isserley, an enigmatic young woman, combs the Scottish Highlands picking up muscular, male hitchhikers for reasons unknown. When Isserley's intentions are first revealed as possibly sinister, the reader is going nowhere; the need to know more is too strong.

The way in which Faber builds this intrigue is commendable, treating his reader with great respect by never spoon-feeding. The reader learns through observation, and takes a dark back seat to watch the action unfold.

When finally the horror of it all is exposed, the story changes direction, and becomes something very different. A moral question begins to dig itself out of the ground, and the reader is forgiven for thinking they can see the true story, but Faber again changes tack, and adds a spiritual and philosophical slant to the dénouement. These turns give the novel a literary quality, and no doubt contributed to the short-listing for the Whitbread Prize.

Isserley is understandably sterile, her lack of compassion essential for her `job', and it's refreshing to invest in a character that is not altogether sympathetic. But despite her professional apathy, her inner conflict does elicit empathy, and gives the novel a sharp edge that could otherwise have been dulled by a less brave writer.

But for all this, Under the Skin falls a wee bit short.

The quality of the prose is good in parts, but the excessive use of clichés and adverbs betrays Faber as unseasoned. His handling of dialogue particularly flaws the work, with every spoken word needing adverbial clarification of some description.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CREEPY...SINISTER...MACABRE...STUNNING... March 13 2009
By Lawyeraau TOP 100 REVIEWER
This is a wonderfully inventive novel that is strangely compelling. It cuts across many genres, as it certainly qualifies as literary fiction, horror, satire, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. It is extraordinarily riveting in its telling, propelled by a narrative that is all at once creepy, faintly sinister and macabre, as well as, at times, poignant. Beautifully written in clear, spare prose, this stunning novel grips the reader until the last page is turned.

The main protagonist, Isserley, cruises the highways of the Scottish countryside in her specially equipped compact car looking for beefcake. On the prowl for muscular, well-built, healthy men who are hitchhiking, rolling stones with little or no ties to family, friends, and community, she picks them up and gets their life's story before she makes a momentous decision that will forever alter their lives.

These unsuspecting men take note of Isserley for a number of reasons. After all, she is a tiny snippet of a being, strangely erotic, with very large, beautiful and luminous eyes, hidden behind coke bottle thick glasses. She has a small heart-shaped, puffy-cheeked, virtually chinless face, dotted with a tiny nose and lush lips. Her arms are long and thin with knobby elbows and wrists from which large scarred hands flow. Of course, her large breasts are extraordinary and ripe in her always low cut top. It is those perfect protuberances that helps her to ensnare her prey.

Who Isserley is and what Isserley does with her prey is at the heart of this book, which is one that should not be missed by those who enjoy unusual, slightly twisted novels.
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The author's working a simple really good concept. Already it's better than 95% out there. There are real moments in this story that will stay with the reader long after reading it. But the story's both a little stretched out/repetitive and not developed enough. Are there no more editors out there? That's what an editor used to do-shape up what's there and tighten things up. It's amazing concepts this strong don't appear more often. (Or I don't know where to look). An author to look out for.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully grim May 31 2014
By Tez Miller TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The edition I read included a foreword by David Mitchell. Though clearly he tried not to, he let slip two spoilers. Major spoilers. So if you're trying Michel Faber's UNDER THE SKIN for the first time, DON'T get the edition with the white cover with hooks depicted. Or if you do, skip David Mitchell's foreword and read that later. Story first, y'all.

And what a story it is! Hard to write about without spoilers, so here's my best attempt: Isserley picks up fit young male hitchhikers in the Scottish highlands. Why she does this and how it's revealed are well detailed and fascinating.

You may have heard of a recent film, starring Scarlett Johansson, based on this novel. I haven't seen it myself, but apparently the premise is the same, whilst the execution and plot are very different. Also, the advertising/marketing for the film reveals one of the book's major spoilers, so tread carefully.

The driving can be rather tedious at times, but the rest of the story is an absolute cracker. It could have been quite pedestrian in the hands of another writer, but Michel Faber crafts with wit and nuance, going for psychology rather than schlock. A wonderfully grim late-night read.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars It is okay.
Too much descriptive of places and not enough story. Ir seemed the author was filling the quote number of pages. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Lena A Scallion
5.0 out of 5 stars Proper Science Fiction
Read this book. Well written, well thought out.
Published 7 days ago by James Rudzinski
1.0 out of 5 stars Lost Credibility
It started off well. The main character is Isserley, who picks up male hitchhikers in the Scottish Highlands. I was interested, even though I don't know what icpathua is. Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2004 by Ez
3.0 out of 5 stars Too predictable!
Unfortunately, I bought this book based on the glowing reviews which breathlessly promised a shocking story filled with plot twists and revelations, and was disappointed by a... Read more
Published on July 11 2004 by Ashley Megan
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Animal Farm
Many critics have compared Under the Skin to Orwell's classic Animal Farm. Where Orwell's was a obvious satire intended to invoke seriuos thought about humanity or the lack of,... Read more
Published on June 15 2004 by Esme
5.0 out of 5 stars Subversive & Sensitive. A Masterpiece!!
Michel Faber's under the Skin is a deceptively enjoyable book, told with the control and secrecy of a Master Storyteller, he unfolds the storyline one layer at a time. Read more
Published on May 31 2004 by madhu m
5.0 out of 5 stars We're all the same under the skin
Isserley travels a country road through the Scottish highlands daily, looking for a certain type of hitchhiker - big, fit, healthy, and male. Read more
Published on March 27 2004 by bonsai chicken
3.0 out of 5 stars Something about it...
How cliche to have described a book as getting under the skin - but this one truly does. However, unlike many others, I didn't feel it to be in a positive way. Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2004 by Logical Libertine
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't get in the car!
This book is difficult to categorize. Is it a science fiction novel? Is it a horror novel? Is it a feminist treatise on the injustice of a male-dominated society with regards to a... Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2004 by C W Breaux
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