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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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Under The Skin + Crimson Petal And The White
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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
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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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 We're all the same under the skin March 27 2004
Isserley travels a country road through the Scottish highlands daily, looking for a certain type of hitchhiker - big, fit, healthy, and male. Isserly herself is a small woman of indeterminate origin, slightly strange-looking but also strangely attractive. Of each man she picks up, she wonders: will he be missed?
That is all you need to know - all you should know - of the story. It is full of surprises, from the first sharp shock about twenty pages in, until literally the very last page. Faber skillfully places hints - an unfamiliar word here, an incongruous physical description there - without the reader even being aware that it is happening until later, when more is revealed. The gradual build of information grips the reader like nothing else. Suffice it to say the story is about a woman with a job to do, and what happens when her faith in her profession is shaken. It is also about humanity's place in the scheme of things.
Leave your expectations at the door..or enjoy watching them crumble.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Take A Surreal Ride With Isserley On Highway A9! Dec 28 2003
Isserley drives for a living. She motors along Scotland's A9 and looks for male hitchhikers - buff, hunky males, the bigger the better. If a man meets her standards, she takes them on the ride of their lives...destination unknown. Isserley is tiny, though well developed where it counts. She is shy, introverted and scarred - inside and out.
"Under The Skin" is a chilling, bizarre, and erotically charged novel that explores how we view humanity, other races and species. Michel Faber almost forces the reader to observe how we, as human beings and caretakers of the earth, protect our environment and each other. This psychological thriller is at times macabre and gruesome, occasionally humorous with its satirical take on mankind, and often very sad. It is difficult not to empathize with Isserley's moral dilemma, yet how can we not condemn her? It is impossible to judge and we are not asked to here.
Mr. Faber's demonstrates his seemingly boundless imagination with this, his debut novel. If you allow him, he will take you to places you've never been to before in the world of fiction. Faber's plot and characters are some of the most original I have encountered in a long time. He weaves his compelling tale with a tightly written, elegant narrative and superb dialogue. He also created a language for the book that reminds me of the "Nadsat" language in "A Clockwork Orange." I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Faber's "The Crimson Petal And The White" and, wanting to read more by the author, picked up "Under The Skin." The two novels are as unalike as two works of fiction can be, although both are clearly written by the same extremely talented author. If you are looking for a totally unique reading experience, this is it! I doubt very much that you will be disappointed.
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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 2 months ago by Lena A Scallion
5.0 out of 5 stars Proper Science Fiction
Read this book. Well written, well thought out.
Published 3 months ago by James Rudzinski
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... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Richard Feder
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully grim
The edition I read included a foreword by David Mitchell. Though clearly he tried not to, he let slip two spoilers. Major spoilers. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Tez Miller
4.0 out of 5 stars The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Easy pick-up
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... Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2011 by Tokyo Joe
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 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
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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