Under the SkinUnder the Skin by Michel Faber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


how do i love this book? let me count the ways:

  1. it has every issue of importance to me: food, corporate culture, environmental issues, sexism, class, disability.
  2. the issues are all organic to the story–none of them is presented as polemic.
  3. it messes with your head: sometimes one feels immense sympathy for Isserley, and other times definitely not. it’s a beautifully manipulative tale.
  4. there are no easy answers. Faber isn’t going to tell you how to feel or what to think.
  5. it’s beautifully plotted. the Big Reveals are nicely set up but still unexpected.

plus, it left me with a Huge Throbbing Love for mother earth–we get so used to her beauty, we forget how varied and ingenious and rare (probably) it is. plus, except where vodsels have been, she smells good.

i first read this book not long after it came out ’round 2004 (how i wish i had a hardcover version! stupid acid-washed paperbacks…). i’ve never stopped thinking about it–about the prices we pay for our work, about the morality of work that everyone else seems to think is ok but we suspect is not, about how poverty forces us into some genuinely devastating choices, and about who benefits from our lack of options. some days i know exactly how Isserley feels, down to (literally) the pain of a body mangled by horrible, unnatural use (hint: we are not built to sit in chairs 8 hours a day pounding on keyboards).

this re-read i was really struck by Isserley’s volcanic rage at all that’s been done to her, and all she’s “chosen”. it’s an unusual female protagonist who is driven by rage… and yet in Isserley’s case it is all so perfectly natural and right, even when it’s not, that she does not come across as a horrible character. that too was masterful writing.

we’re off to a discussion of this book on another site (here)–feel free to wander on over and join us. the book is so rich, the discussion can’t but be rewarding.