Book review: Under The Skin - Michel Faber

So I read the novel, because the movie adaptation with Scarlett Johansson premieres in 2014.

This is one book that you cannot really synopsize without giving it away so, I'll instead talk about the novel's premise.
Set in northern Scotland, there are elements of thriller, sci-fi, horror, the macabre, social commentary, and animal ethics. We perceive the world through the eyes of Isserley, an odd-looking, determined young woman, who at times seems alone, and at other times too busy to be lonely.

There is a spontaneous thrill about picking up hitchhikers, which the author taps into. For me, the best parts are when we meet the colorful characters whom Isserley picks up in her car. However to me the hitchhiker scenes do become a bit repetitive, and it feels like when the author doesn’t know where to go next with the plot, he adds another hitchhiker chapter.

Well-written and atmospheric. Perhaps the descriptions are too longwinded at times, but you realize there is a reason for this, because of the protagonist’s perspective.

Does a terrific job of preserving the mystery, that keeps you reading, to figure out Isserley’s actual agenda. The hitchhikers get “icpathua toggle”. The reader wonders what that is.

Even though mercy is an unknown word to her, and she is just doing her job, there are signs of guilt and tears. I cared about what would happen to Isserley.

The animal rights social commentary was thought-provoking, and it won’t encourage you to hitch a ride any time soon.
The ending was a bit of a cop out, though, and several threads lack payoff, where I feel the author took the easy way out.

The supporting characters Amlis Vess and Esswiss are very vague, perhaps purposely so. I felt they were not as memorable as the hitchhikers, and Isserley’s character.

Not for the squeamish. A bit too macabre and underdeveloped to become a favorite of mine, but an impressive horror debut novel, with a number of surprises. Shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Award.

If you are a fan of reading horror fiction, you should give it a go.

Favorite quotes:
P60: “This inability of some of the most superbly fit and well-adapted vodsels to be happy while they were alive was, for Isserley, one of the great mysteries she encountered in her job.”

P43: “When I was young I have travelled a lot in Europe with my parents. But I think, in a way, I saw everything through my parents’ eyes. Now, I want to see things through my own eyes”

Rating 7.5/10


  1. I heard the film is quite different from the book yet Jonathan Glazer wanted to stick to the essential elements of the book but make the film something of its own.

    1. @thevoid99: I too heard that the film is quite different to the novel. I’m guessing from the trailer, that the film will be atmospheric like the book, but that they have taken liberties with the story.

  2. Hmm I really don't see how the ending was a cop out, for me it was one of the best written parts in the book and the only logical way to go. I don't think I'd use the word satire to describe the animal slaughter parallels. It definitely got me thinking. Shame the movie won't follow the book too closely, the MERCY scene and Isserley observing the surgery/procedure were amazing scenes and they are not in the film.

    1. @Sati:
      Spoiler warning:
      The ending was thrilling and the book is well-written, but when I say cop out, I just feel I wanted to see her (and other characters) confrontation with the authorities, and there could easily have been another chapter at the end. For me, it was a lazy writing to finish it like that, I wanted to see her get caught.

      Satire, yeah, maybe social commentary is a more accurate word. The methods in the meat industry definitely are inhuman. Sort of the same message as that disturbing short film Blood of the Beasts (1949), that Alex Withrow wrote about.


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