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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Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland: Book Review

Ian Sutherland | Social EngineerEarlier this year I had the privilege of reading Ian Sutherland’s first novel in his Deep Web Thriller series, Invasion of Privacy; a slick modern thriller centred around ‘white-hat’ computer hacker, Brody Taylor, who finds himself caught up in a hunt for a serial killer. Crime is not exactly my go-to genre, but Invasion of Privacy was undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year. So to have then received an email inviting me to download a prequel 60-page novella, Social Engineer – for free nonetheless – I was only too happy to oblige, and excited to read more about Brody’s exploits. You can read my 5 star review of Invasion of Privacy on Goodreads here.

Ostensibly, Social Engineer has been written as an introduction to Brody’s character as well as his motivations, hacking techniques and day-to-day existence shrouded in a web of secrecy and lies, whilst trying to make a go of a relationship with an animal rights protester. The hope is that the reader will then go on to read the full-length novel, but those who have read the novel first, such as myself, Social Engineer is a nice little bonus story worth reading. Because the very nature of a novella dictates that Social Engineer cannot possibly be as informative or as in depth as Invasion of Privacy, it makes it all the more impressive that Ian Sutherland manages to cram so much in.

Brody’s character in the space of less than 100 pages succeeds in coming across as believable, consistent, intelligent and likeable, despite also being a self-confessed compulsive liar who walks a fine line between what is legal and what is not. The idea to pitch a much-needed, ground-breaking scientific discovery – in this case a cure for Alzheimer’s – against horrific but perhaps necessary animal testing (the latter of which was skilfully and subtly handled by the author) only helps to emphasise this blurring of black and white morality, which again I find impressive for a short story; to actually go so far as to include symbolism and social commentary with such a low page count. The writing is good, with no typos or formatting errors (important in a self-published work like this one). The story itself is tight with a solid beginning, middle and an open-ended, but very satisfying conclusion. The plot meanwhile is a little predictable, especially if you have read Invasion of Privacy first. Likewise, if you do read Invasion of Privacy after Social Engineer, expect to find yourself treading over old ground with the first Brody-centred chapter, the opening setting of which is very similar to this novella.

So, if you are looking for a (very) quick, pacey little Crime read with the potential to introduce you to something clever and more involved, and wish to support deserving, talented indie authors, I thoroughly recommend that you give Ian Sutherland’s Social Engineer a go. Hopefully you’ll pick up Invasion of Privacy afterwards too and enjoy it as much as I did.

Verdict: 4/5

S.E. Berrow


For more information on the Deep Web Thriller series and Ian Sutherland, please visit his official website:

http://ianhsutherland.com/