Under The Skin by Michel Faber: Book Review

Under The SkinMichel Faber’s debut novel Under The Skin is a reviewer’s nightmare, because it’s one of those books that you cannot really adequately cover without giving too much away. The book defies all categorisation, masquerading as a thriller, science-fiction and horror all at once. There are also elements of allegory and satire woven throughout. Suffice to say, as far as the plot is concerned, it is about a woman called Isserly who is obsessed with driving around the Scottish highlands and picking up well-muscled male hitchhikers. What starts out as a run-of-the-mill sexed-up thriller soon descends into a malebolge of unsettling and repugnant horrors that stole my sleep and left me unnerved for days.

The first half of the book – where revelations are slowly drip-fed to the reader – is the strongest. Michel Faber does a fantastic job of ratcheting up the suspense and the ever-permeating sense of dread by revealing just enough to send the reader’s imagination running wild without fully satisfying their questions. This makes Under The Skin compulsively readable, despite the repetitive events of Isserly’s daily grind; find a hitchhiker, pick him up, find a hitchhiker, pick him up…

Comparatively, the latter half of the novel does not maintain this momentum. Climaxing roughly in the middle with a truly horrific midnight hunt in the dark, after this I had the facts necessary to piece together enough of the truth that my interest waned. A couple of latter attempts on Michel Faber’s part to gross me out failed, and whilst some of the debate surrounding speciesism, classicism and what makes us human were truly interesting, it didn’t quite seem to fit with the ambiguously eerie and unsettling beginning and had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It is also worth noting that if you – like me – are the kind of reader who looks up words they don’t understand, there are a couple of made-up words thrown in here that I would advise you not to investigate; words like ‘icpathua’ and ‘vodsel’. Never forget that the web is dark and full of spoilers…

The Woman
Scarlett Johansson stars as Isserly’s equivalent – The Woman – in Under The Skin (2013)

Despite these quite major sticking points, I really did enjoy Under The Skin. There’s definitely no other book like it, and its opaque ambiguity and downright weirdness is what makes it simultaneously so fascinating and frustrating to read.

Shortly after I finished reading Under The Skin, I watched the 2013 film of the same name starring Scarlett Johansson. I thought the film – which is only a very loose adaption of the book – was just as good, if not better; a fantastic transition from page to screen. Honestly, I would recommend both, so if you cannot bring yourself to read the book based on my rating, it’s definitely worth checking out the film.

Verdict: 3/5

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Michel Faber and Under The Skin (2013), please visit the below links:

http://www.canongate.tv/authors/michelfaber
http://undertheskinmovie.com/

 

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Demon Road by Derek Landy: Book Review

Derek Landy | Demon RoadDerek Landy, author of the fantastically funny, dark and gritty Skulduggery Pleasant series, kind of set himself up for a fall. Demon Road is an entirely new book series with entirely new characters set not only in a different country from Skulduggery Pleasant, but also amidst a new supernatural underworld with a completely different set of rules. After three trilogies, one novella and several short stories chronicling the escapades of everyone’s favourite crime-fighting skeleton, I felt nervous about venturing into such new and unfamiliar territory. Derek wrote Skulduggery Pleasant for so long… Surely this new book wouldn’t be anywhere near as good? Surely I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from comparing the two? What if I didn’t lose myself in the world as much? The Skulduggery Pleasant series took over my life for several weeks. How on earth could Demon Road match up? I feared the ‘Casual Vacancy Effect’, for what is Demon Road to Skulduggery Pleasant if not the equivalent of J.K. Rowling’s follow-up to Harry Potter?

This book was such a fantastic surprise. A hilariously subversive take on the bleak sense of loneliness and entitlement felt by Generation Y vs. the sheer greed and selfishness of Generation X, Demon Road follows Amber, a lonely sixteen-year-old girl, who one day not only discovers that there’s a bit more to the family tree than she first realised, but that her parents also want her dead. In order to escape she must first strike a deal with a Devil and then clamber into a vintage Dodge Charger – that also happens to eat people – with a complete stranger – who may or may not be a serial killer – and drive across the black roads of America, fighting killer psychic children, vampires and lovesick ents along the way.

Packed absolutely full to bursting with classic American-Horror set-pieces, drawing inspiration from the likes of Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, H.P. Lovecraft and – seemingly, bizarrely – Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the end result is a rip-roaring gore-fest with some genuinely spectacularly creepy moments that is essentially one long love letter to the road trip and horror genres. It is well-written and tightly plotted, and somehow manages to meander from one horror trope to the next without ever venturing off the main point. Throw in Derek Landy’s trademark wit and humour plus some truly brilliant characters – such as the endearingly awkward Amber and the dangerously reticent Milo… Hell, even the weirdly pet-like Charger – and you’ve got a recipe for a really great book. The novel’s one weak point I would say is the character of Glen, who unfortunately does read a bit like a slightly more irritating carbon-copy of Fletcher from the Skulduggery Pleasant series. He did however grow on me in the same way he probably grew on Amber and Milo, like an overly-talkative Irish fungus.

Undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I absolutely can’t wait for the follow-up, Demon Road: Desolation, which is due for release in March next year. Skulduggery Pleasant may be gone for good, but Derek Landy is most definitely back.

Verdict: 5/5

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Derek Landy, Demon Road and the Skulduggery Pleasant series, please check out the below links:

http://dereklandy.blogspot.co.uk/
http://www.skulduggerypleasant.co.uk/