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Under the Skin: A Novel Paperback – July 16, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 319 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books (July 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156011603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156011600
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (255 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

I became bored very quickly, and felt like I had to slog through most of the story.
SD
No, it's not great science fiction, nor is it great horror - it lands in a crack between...and creates its own world.
Mark Cobb
This book makes you deeply ponder what it truly means to be a "human" being.
C. Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 90 people found the following review helpful By DAMwriter on August 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
In his excellent debut novel, Faber offers readers a compelling story that is both a quick, easy beach-towel read and a serious exploration of alienation, desire and what it means to be human. An artful balance -- and as a writer, one worth emulating.
From the reader's perspective, the first part of the book puts us in the position of detective. Who is Isserly, and why is she driving the roads of Scotland looking for men? Without revealing anything of the plot (this is one book that you should enter completely uninformed), Faber lays down a series of clues and information that easily lead us into creating an image of this woman and her motivations -- only to have this image completely exploded when the revelation comes. In some ways, it reminded me of the movie "The Sixth Sense": an interesting, compelling story that gets turned upside-down, forcing us to confess that we were given all the information we needed, but we came to the wrong conclusions anyway.
After the key revelations, the remainder of the story skirts the edges of simplistic, moralistic allegory. However, the author appears to be aware of this risk, and turns the remainder of the book into a serious study of the main character's key conflict. His writing is fluid, descriptive and highly imaginative throughout, so our interest in the story and the characters is maintained despite some of the heavy emotion and inner turmoil.
I realize that this review may sound a bit obtuse, simply because I am so concerned about not revealing details that may ruin a new reader's enjoyment and astonishment. Go out and read this book yourself -- it's worth it.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rich Stoehr on January 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There's very little that's predictable about "Under the Skin." This is perhaps one of the strangest books I've read all year. Trying to pigeonhole this book in a genre is impossible, as it mixes thriller elements with horror, science fiction with a highly literary sensibility.
First and foremost, Faber's writing is wonderful. He tempers his language like a swordsmith, starting from raw story elements and gradually refining them, working in key concepts patiently, until the full shape of the story becomes clear. He doesn't rush, and he seems to love the act of wordsmithing itself. The book is a joy to read, even just from the standpoint of beautiful words.
In contrast to this is the story itself. It's a challenging story, one which is both disturbing and enlightening. The main character, Isserley, at first seems somewhat strange, but it's only as the tale progresses that you learn just how very strange she is, and how her circumstances are perhaps even stranger. And yet, by the end, she becomes very real. This personality, who at the beginning seemed so distant, and then so impossibly different, becomes someone I can understand easily. Her motivations, her feelings, her pain... it all comes into clear focus.
The themes of the book challenge the meaning of what it is to be human. Is "human being" just a phrase, or does it mean something? Does it mean different things to different people? From an outside perspective, what are we, really? Which are all important questions... and perhaps what I liked best about the book is that these questions were implicit. They were never stated outright in the book, but were asked subtly, through the telling of a compelling story.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Carla M. W. on May 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you like psychological thrillers that make your brain actually "think" while you read, then you'll definitely enjoy this book. It takes you on a very detailed and descriptive journey through the thoughts of a struggling woman named Isserley, as well as through the minds of the hitchhikers she picks up on the A-9. This book deserves a 5 out of 5 because of the imagery and imagination, the story line, and the emotion. Michel Faber is a very compelling author who definitely knows how to mix imagery and imagination together. When he describes his characters he not only states the obvious things like hair color or height, but he gives the reader and overview of their personality. When you read through the book it feels like you're almost there because you can "feel" the moist air on the beach, or you can "hear" the rain puttering on Isserley's car windows. Faber's creativity is awesome because he uses it to creep on the reader when they least expect it, and when it hits them, they're absolutely shocked! This particular story line is very interesting and unique. If Faber were to write side notes for every page in the book it would seriously take so much away from the reader's own imagination to where the story is going. It's amazing how this book makes you think that it's all about a very strange yet appealing woman who picks up hitchhikers, and yet it turns completely around to where she's actually on a mission to find the right "specimen." Under The Skin is a science fiction/adventure story tied into one, but you can't even tell. As you dig deeper and deeper into the story, you can't really stop yourself from reading because the sentences pull you out from your world and into the story's own world.Read more ›
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