Under the Skin by Michael Faber

Under the Skin started off as extremely ominious. You could tell right from the beginning that something was wrong. Why was Isserley spending hours a day tracking down fit hitchhikers to take home? What did she want from them?

At first I assumed that she was just your run-of-the-mill serial killer. She brought fit hitchhikers home to kill them. She wanted them to be strong and fit so it would really test her skills. Things like her gigantic glasses and breasts were meant to throw them off from the fact that she’s a threat to their life. 

I didn’t predict that she was an alien life form. Obviously, I didn’t read any reviews prior to this or look into the 2013 film based on Under the Skin. While it came out rather quickly that she was, I was still confused by her human form. Why did she look so familiar to all of us? Would an alien really have human-like breasts?

For the most part, I was really enjoying this book. Under the Skin was deeply disturbing, but not for the reasons you’d think. Kidnapping hitchhikers for some nefarious purpose didn’t bother me quite as much as the treatment of Isserley did. I assumed that the hitchhikers died after a few weeks of harsh treatment. Isserley had to live every day with what had been done to her – a complete maiming and transformation of her body. 

Of course, that sentiment only occurred until I was a little over halfway done with the book. The conditions they kept humans in are terrible. The gelding, the mutilation of their tongues, the sheer torture of their existence… no wonder they begged for mercy. 

As the conditions got worse so did the book overall. My former enjoyment of the book quickly degraded into a moderate, and sometimes intense, dislike. Things like Isserley’s rape on behalf of mankind came across as crude and unnecessary. We all know the dangers of hitchhiking, but I didn’t feel like the rape was necessary for the overall story. Her mental state could have simply degraded as she realized that she was signing mankind up for a slow death and consumption. 

I also felt like parts of this book were utterly ridiculous. While I respected the fact that Amliss was shocked at the way “vodsels” were treated and kept before being killed, a lot of his prior assumptions about us felt silly. He was absolutely surprised that mankind was smart enough to communicate with one another. But, if we can’t communicate, how do we explain the existence of cars and planes… or even the clothes that we wear? Obviously there has to be some semblance of intelligence. It just didn’t make a lot of sense.

It also didn’t make a lot of sense that they would just use mankind and Earth as a food source. They live in a world absolutely plagued by the consequences of pollution. The rich and famous spend their lives trapped in luxurious indoor prisons; the poor spend their lives toiling away and dying due to the effects of pollution. Why wouldn’t they want to move to Earth? Or, considering the fact that someone has to know that mankind is intelligent, why wouldn’t they want to set up trade relations? Just eating us doesn’t seem like the right move. We must taste pretty damn good if that’s all they want out of the entire planet. 

All in all, do I recommend it? While I’d love to say yes simply because I enjoyed reading it… I’m not going to. I don’t think it’s really worth the amount of time it took. I’m left with too many plot holes and too many questions. It’s one thing to make me question society; it’s another to make me question the book I’m reading. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

In this haunting, entrancing novel, Michel Faber introduces us to Isserley, a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. Under the Skin takes us on a heart-thumping ride through dangerous territory—our own moral instincts and the boundaries of compassion.