Under the Skin by Michel Faber

Isserley cruises the roads of the Scottish Highlands, looking for men. The hitchhikers she initially picks up all view her differently, but her physique stands out: “Half Baywatch babe, half little old lady.” But her appearance is nowhere near her natural build. Isserley’s body has been fundamentally altered, partly in order to get men into her car.

And she does not view the men as humans. Isserley and her kind are the humans; these other creatures are known to her as vodsels, and they are to be captured, fattened, and then shipped off.

Isserley is good at was she does, and the unit she works for is quite productive; her employer Vess Incorporated is well pleased. But one day the son of the mighty and exceptionally rich Mr. Vess visits the plant, and this young man, Amlis Vess, has some queer ideas. He believes that vodsel life should be respected and he is awed by the notion that these beings have a language. Isserley, on the other hand, cannot identify with the vodsels as they aren’t capable of anything that defines humans. Her co-workers and men in general get on her nerves, and when she hears what the poor bastards who work in the dreaded Estates back home like to eat, she simply says, “Trash will eat trash.”

Yes, Isserley is a snob, living in self-imposed isolation. And even though she briefly worked in the Estates, she prefers to identify with the Elite that in fact turned her into a serf. She socialized with the well-to-do before “[w]ealthy young men” who had promised to take care of her did not do so.

So, Isserley doesn’t care for young and rich Amlis Vess either, and when she shows him the facility where vodsels are kept, she is not impressed by his idealism. “There’s nothing unusual going on here,” she says, “Just… supply and demand.”

Under the Skin was Dutch-born author Michel Faber’s first novel. It has inspired a movie (which premiered in September, 2013) and the book is an impressive and strange piece of fiction (although not hard to read). It is an immensely rich tale, and while it’s a bloody and gory allegory, it is also a story that jolts the readers awake and helps them find a new love for the air, the rain, the snow, the trees, the sea – earth.

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