25 Women to Read Before You Die

Monday, July 30th, 2001


Under the Skin

by Michel Faber

A review by Steven Fidel

Michel Faber's Under the Skin was shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Whitbread Award in 1999 for Best First Novel, but until it made Contentville's Best of 2000 list, received little attention in this country. This is a pity, as it is one of the freshest, most compelling novels to hit print in the last few years on either side of the Atlantic. With the newly-released paperback, more readers will hopefully give this intriguing novel a look.

The book's narrator is the repellent and mysterious Isserley, a cold, stunted, misshapen lass breasts too large, glasses too thick, a crooked spine who possesses odd dietary restrictions, the horror of which become clearer as the story progresses. Isserley combs the highways and byways (mostly byways) of the Scottish highlands looking for disenfranchised, beefy male specimens. Though freakish in appearance, Isserley exudes a bizarre erotic appeal that helps her snag victims and return them to The Farm for processing and let's just leave it at that, because there's little more inconsiderate than a book review that gives the story away.

If you are a science fiction fan, the story will remind you more of Steve Erickson than Isaac Asimov, but this is not primarily a sci-fi novel. At its best, it brings to mind that classic of dietary horror Soylent Green, as well as some of the better episodes of The Twilight Zone. Faber's bleak vision moves at a page-turner pace and is an instructive, though never didactic, tale of the sometimes unavoidable objectification of one species by another. With superb control and light irony, Faber artfully explores topics ranging from agribusiness to industrial outcasts, as well as our own inherently predatory nature.

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