Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mini book review: Under the Skin by Michel Faber

I haven't seen the Scarlett Johansson movie, Under the Skin, yet but when I learned that it was based on a novel of the same name by Michel Faber, I immediately pounced on the book.  SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.

Out in the Scottish Highlands, not far from Inverness, Isserley cruises the roads, looking for hitchhikers.  English is not her native language.  She's scarred and stiff, big eyes magnified behind thick glasses.  She drives like an old lady and keeps the heat cranked high.  She's tiny, with uncomfortably stiff posture and big, voluptuous breasts.  She's choosy about whom she picks up: no women, nobody too skinny or too old or too young.  When she does pick up a hitchhiker, she talks to them, trying to discern if they have anyone at home, if anyone will miss them.  The men usually open up to her and most of them can't stop staring at her breasts.  Once she has learned enough about them, Isserley either drops the hitchhikers off, closer to their destinations, or drugs them into unconsciousness.

I'm not going to tell you what happens to the men after Isserley captures them - reading about it is all part of the [disturbing] fun of Under the Skin.  I will say that Faber does a wonderful job introducing his main character.  Even if you go into this novel not knowing anything, you know something is not quite right with Isserley.  But what is off is subtle: odd phrasing, her awkwardness, strange vocabulary.  I knew about Isserley from what little I know about the movie, but when it was finally stated outright, it was still a surprise.

There's not that much plot to follow in Under the Skin - it's more of following along on Isserley's journey with grotesqueries and some social commentary.  I haven't read anything by Faber since The Crimson Petal and the White, which I quite enjoyed as well.  Having read Under the Skin (book) and given what I know about the film, it is my understanding the movie is apparently "loosely based" on the source material.  I'm fine with that because I really liked the book and will be interested to see how they adapted it.

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