A lonely extra-terrestrial roams the empty roads looking for hitchhikers to pick up… and kill.
Under the Skin is a dark and atmospheric novel that crosses the genres of sci-fi and horror due to its gruesome detailing. Calling it sci-fi is a little spoiler, so I won’t hold back talking about that aspect; sorry.
Written in third-person the book follows Isserley around, but will contrastingly jump to the perspective of the hitchhiker once they enter the car. This allows for a sense of character depth for somebody who’s no more than a piece of meat in the process.
It’s also used to build tension, often imposing an intense male gaze towards Isserey’s body. These perceptions can be interpreted in several ways, but most notably, from a sexual perspective.
Throughout the book, Humans are known as ‘Vodsels’, which in Dutch means ‘food’. This makes sense when you consider that Faber was born in the Netherlands, despite being considered a Scottish author.
Through Isserley’s Eyes
Under the Skin focuses on Isserley, an alien sent to Earth by the Vessil Incorporation to harvest human meat – in the form of hitchhikers. Using a custom passenger seat, she flicks a switch behind the steering wheel, which shoots two needles up, and inject the traveller with a high dose of sedative.
From here, she takes them back to the farm where a group will keep them captive underground to fatten them before processing.
Isserley goes through a few changes throughout the book. These are due to her isolation from her friends and family back on her home planet, as well as being the only one surgically enhanced to look like the human female species.
She takes shelter in her decrepit cottage, built on the farm’s land, but this doesn’t offer much comfort.
Despite sleeping on a bed, something that she’s not overly proud of adjusting to, she suffers incredible back pain due to the surgery that allows her to walk on two legs; previously four.
This is a constant gripe, always reappearing whenever Isserley shows any form of discontent with her work or the people around her.
Meeting the Undesirables
Of course, my first instinct was ‘what happens when she eventually picks up the wrong kind of person?’
Due to her spinal injuries, her height – around five-foot, she cannot offer too much resistance. However, she does have hyper-extendable joints, something that occurs in all of her kind. This gives her a small form of agility.
Around the halfway point, she does indeed meet a ‘wrong-un‘, and this sends her into a downward spiral of depression.
While contemplating her job, she looks at it as only allowing the fat cats to get richer, by selling the meat back home for extortionate prices, along with what would happen if she just gave up.
Would they send her back to the ‘estates’, which sounds to be the equivalent of slum life back on her planet?
It’s in this moment of depression that Amlis comes to visit the farm to see the process first hand, reporting back to his father, and owner of Vessil incorporated.
A Friendship Unkown
Despite Isserley’s cynical perception of the business, along with her thoughts on corporate greed, she begins to slowly warm to Amlis, realising he’s not here as part of his father’s business, but of his own accord.
While discussing the business, Isserley tells her side of the story, growing up poor in the estates, and Amlis counters with some good points about growing up rich – One of these being forced into a family business that he has no interest in running.
I know on the surface it appears difficult to emote with a rich kid, but Amlis does put across some good points.
It’s here that they begin to see eye-to-eye, although Isserley’s stubbornness stops him from getting close. She’s so used to being on her own, living in isolation, that she’s unsure of how to make meaningful relationships.
Add to the fact that most new people she does meet, hitchhikers, end up being killed later down the line. It’s a recipe for total seclusion.
Under the Skin offers an extraordinary journey through the Scottish countryside, a path full of abuse, kidnapping and murder.
Faber’s use of language is a perfect fit, jumping between Isserley and her passenger’s thoughts, offering alternative perceptions on the actions, as well as their intentions.
Overall, this is a great read when looking for something that falls between the uncanny valley of Sci-fi and horror. Get it read!