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Under The Skin [Paperback]

Michel Faber
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 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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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 50 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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3.0 out of 5 stars Too predictable! July 11 2004
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 morality tale with a twist I saw coming within the first two chapters. Perhaps if my expectations hadn't been so high, I would have been less let down, but as it was I finished the book with a sense of "That's it?"
Out of deference to those who haven't read the book, I won't give the plot away, but savvy readers with even the vaguest hint of the genre will undoubtedly figure it out early on as I did, after which none of the supposed surprises will offer much additional excitement. Faber does show a mastery of written language, but he lays on his moral and metaphor so thick it overshadows any loveliness which might be taken away from the reading. Too much time is spent on the Scottish landscape, not enough on the characters, who remain frustratingly aloof right up to the end.
While certainly not awful or even particularly a chore to read (the 300 pages do fly by pretty quickly, thanks mostly to Faber's writing skill), this book fell flat in my opinion and, having been read once, does not offer much chance for a repeat engagement (a mortal sin in my bookshelves).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Animal Farm June 15 2004
By Esme
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, Under the Skin manages to scare and tantalize where Animal Farm could not. Faber's book is unlike anything I have ever read. It flows so smoothly that it's a shame it wasn't longer. The writing is excellent and the character development is amazing for how little we meet the other characters.
Quite a few people were annoyed that it takes a while for the plot to be revealed to you, but I think that is the genius of it. Had Faber started right out with the meat of the plot, the book would have been laughable, not poignant. If you can hold on for the first twenty pages, which can be confusing, the rest of the book is definetly worth it.
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Most recent customer reviews
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
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
3.0 out of 5 stars A great idea put to average use
The idea of this book is really good and in my opinion quite original but unfortunately Michel Faber doesn't do as much with it as you could have wished for. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2004 by Lisa L. Hansen
4.0 out of 5 stars Take A Surreal Ride With Isserley On Highway A9!
Isserley drives for a living. She motors along Scotland's A9 and looks for male hitchhikers - buff, hunky males, the bigger the better. Read more
Published on Dec 28 2003 by Jana L. Perskie
4.0 out of 5 stars A disturbingly entertaining read that stays with you.
Fluff or not? Not
Isserly - a mysterious creature with whom Faber makes... Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2003 by Heidi
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and sinister!
Michel Faber sees darkness in nearly everything. The success of Under the Skin illustrates this fact. Read more
Published on Oct. 13 2003 by CoffeeGurl
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