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
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.