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.

Foe by Iain Reid

Foe comes across as an instant departure from Iain Reid’s debut novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things. The idea of venturing out into space is a far cry from the call of death. But perhaps they’re not as unrelated as you would think. 

Clues start to emerge that Junior isn’t necessarily who I thought he was from the beginning. His life seems unimportant in comparison to how he feels about Henrietta. The general tone of this book reminds me of an episode of ‘Black Mirror.’ There is something deeply unsettling about it. What does Hen know that Junior does not? Is Junior real? Is this another series that distorts reality? What is fiction and what is tangible? How does anyone know the difference?

However, the foundation of Foe is more philosophical than plot based. For a sci-fi story with plenty of dystopic elements, nothing really happened. Time passed slowly. Thankfully, the slowness felt intentional instead of boring. The basis of the book was more grounded in the impossible scientific feats and the development of Junior and Henrietta’s relationship than anything else. Even the plot twists were too predictable, especially considering they were given away in the back of the book. 

To be honest, it took me a couple of reads in order to formulate a cohesive train of thought about this book. Did I even like it? While it didn’t blow me away like I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Foe was still a powerful book. The dialogue was great, the storyline was interesting enough, and I really wanted the best for each and every character. I liked the fact that Reid kept many of the specifics slightly vague. It felt like this could happen to anyone, not just Henrietta and Junior. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to compare the two, but when I do I’m still left a little disappointed by Foe. It could’ve been more exciting. 

So all in all,  is it read-worth? It’s hard to tell. It’s predictable. It doesn’t explore new concepts or break new ground. The ideas feel familiar to me and are slightly reminiscent of other body-snatcher books. But the writing style is utterly unique. Each progression in the storyline starts off subtly and I like that. I personally enjoyed Foe both times I read it, but it could’ve been more than what it was. I wanted Reid to expand on it a little bit more. 

BACK OF THE BOOK (AMAZON.COM)

‘Reads like a house on fire’ – the extraordinary new novel by Iain Reid, the acclaimed author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things

You think you know everything about your life.

Long-married couple Junior and Henrietta live a quiet, solitary life on their farm, where they work at the local feed mill and raise chickens. Their lives are simple, straightforward, uncomplicated.

Until everything you think you know collapses.

Until the day a stranger arrives at their door with alarming news: Junior has been chosen to take an extraordinary journey, a journey across both time and distance, while Hen remains at home. Junior will be gone for years. But Hen won’t be left alone.

Who can you trust if you can’t even trust yourself?

As the time for his departure draws nearer, Junior finds himself questioning everything about his life – even whether it’s really his life at all.

 An eerily entrancing page-turner, Foe churns with unease and suspense from the first words to its shocking finale. Perfect for fans of Humans, Westworld and Black Mirror, Foe is a book you will never forget.