13 thoughts on “Under The Skin – Michel Faber

  1. 1

    “It was the icpathua toggle,”

    I may be the rare one of the readers who noticed that ‘icpathua’ word tucked away almost invisibly earlier in the text of this first chapter. Most would have been more attentive to the odd worrying rattle in the car, after watching Isserley driving south to Inverness, with her newest male hitchhiker. We readers are sort of invisible passengers but we nonetheless guess at her motives as they become clearer, wonder at her bespoke physique with nice tits, her odd accent. I wonder if she knew the danger she was in from any one of us uninvited hitchhikers in the guise of readers? Let alone the official, double-checked, hitchhiker whom she did invite in. Or the danger he is In from her. His past finally ditched.

  2. 2

    “She considered going farther, crossing the bridge and trying her luck beyond Inverness. There, she was likely to find hitchers who were more organized and purposeful than the ones closer to home, with thermos flasks and little cardboard placards saying ABERDEEN or GLASGOW.”

    She’s the zipper-toggle on the A9 Zip drive I reckon, collecting her own whelks, those with no connection; they help us, though, to triangulate by literary GPS, including their own view of her breasts as she drives, as well as she helping us, me, too, with our accretive view of her own bodily attenuation despite the size of her breasts.
    An undercurrent of unemployment in the hitchhiking men she chooses, or missed chances or messed up career paths. Now, a new path with her. We are all in it. No escape. She pressed the toggle for me, with the help of Faber, right at the start of this book. Except she doesn’t t know I am there, also looking at her breasts, biding my time.

    “‘Seatbelt,’ she reminded him. He strapped himself in as if she had just asked him to bow three times to a god of her choice.”

    “Men had always said they couldn’t figure her out, but she couldn’t figure herself out, either, and had to look for clues like anyone else.”

    You see, we are all in it to triangulate each other. She included.

    I even noticed a possible reference to Brexit.

    “She couldn’t work out whether he was suggesting that the British were admirably self-reliant or deplorably insular. She guessed the ambiguity might be deliberate.”

  3. 3.

    “And afterwards, she must remember to wash and change her clothes, in case she came across another clever guesser like the vodsel with the mollusc in his pocket.”

    “The indiscriminate, eternal devotion of nature to its numberless particles had an emotional importance for Isserley; it put the unfairness of human life into perspective.”

    She burns an ex-hitcher’s rucksack and its contents on a bonfire as we learn about her own backpack-story, a gradual accretion of realisation about her as a being bodily and mental-historically and about her ‘colleagues’ in this area of Scottish farms. But does she realise our realisation? Our presence? The nearness with which we get to her is equivalent to that with which she gets to our whelks, particles and broken stones in our Brexit land back then when all this was written about her, written at the turn of the millennium, if the publication’s publication date serves to give any clue.

    “But it must be a smaller world than she thought, because once or twice a year, a talkative hitcher would get onto the subject of incomers and how they were ruining Scotland’s traditional existence, and, sure enough, Ablach would be mentioned. Isserley would play dumb while she heard the story of how a mad Scandinavian had gobbled up Baillie’s farm and then, instead of turning it into one of these European money-spinning ventures, had just let it fall into decay, renting out the fields to the same farmers he’d outbid. ‘It just goes to show,’ one hitcher had told her. ‘Foreigners’ minds don’t work the same as ours. No offence.’”


  4. 4.

    “it wasn’t the side-winds she was thinking of, but Amlis Vess. He was blowing in from somewhere much more dangerous than the North Sea,…”

    This image is of the North Sea, posted just before I read this chapter, a chapter about driving in side-winds, and there is a sense of something whelk-like under the sand as well as lurking between the lines of drifting text. Nice to know that Isserley sometimes sleeps like us in an ungainly bed.
    I put my own spy into this chapter – a woodcutter with lung cancer. Her vision of that cancer is startling. I thought the health issue would test her. And it did. And was I right that at one point she did not use the A9 at all on the latest hitcher-hunt but sailed on zip-drive through or over the forest? I could easily have been mistaken.
    And is this Amlis Vess – who is coming to visit the hitcher-hunting and storage outfit (much to Isserley’s dread) – part of the Vess Federation that his father started? A sort of alien, that Trump, that father, I infer. My inferences are often wrong. Sometimes I infer I actually exist.
    Infer, ergo vodsel?

    ‘She’ll skelp my bot.’

  5. 5.

    ‘She wished there were a big icpathua toggle growing out of the ground that she could flip like a sapling, causing needles to spring up from the earth.’

    This chapter takes off just as much as something else lands. I cannot give you details of what happens and as that would be plot spoilure. Ground spoilure of what has already been grounded and now takes off in realisations of what really is going on here and the remarkable writing (which it is) needed to convoke the elements animal or human, dynastic breeding or base alteration, mishap versus plans, even if for why is as yet unclear. I perhaps have my spy there now in the open and for real, aptly with this site’s name morphed as Esswis? Zombie hunting is not even half the story. This is something far more dramatic and seminal to the inheritance that peoples our world.
    The emerging (sexual?) magnetism between physique and breeding.
    Indeed, truly remarkable. In my book and in my trial withdrawal from disbelief, unmissable.

    “He was probably bisexual, like all rich and famous people.”

  6. 6.

    ‘Nah!’ Dave assured her, happily fiddling with the cassette controls while she endured the sound of beeping. ‘It’s just needin’ windin’ backwards an’ forwards a few times. Daes wonders. You’ll see. Folk throw tapes oot thinkin’ they’re deid. Nae need for it.’

    I posted a tweet this morning BEFORE reading this chapter:

    You still got cars with cassette players in a book published in MM.

    Azathoth beds down in a dream in the centre of the earth. Isserley’s thoughts on human beds, bad hair days. Road accidents that are more like suddenyly turning it into a computer game? The two well-characterised hitchers – one taken, one not. One who talked about cassettes and John Martyn. (I recently got into late Scott Walker recorded since this book was written.) The other one a landscaper or dog breeder. I thought also about how human bodies are often a work in progress.

    And more anachronistic Trump and Brexit?

    “Old man Vess probably set up these little schemes to keep his workers in line; he was probably just as twisted and crazy as his son, but in a different direction …”

    “‘You seem to know such a lot about dogs, you must have been a very good breeder. Why are you designing landscapes just now?’
    ‘The bottom fell out of the dog-breeding business in the early nineties, that’s why,’ he said, his tone suddenly sour.
    ‘What caused that?’ she said.
    ‘Brussels,’ he declared darkly.”

  7. 7.

    “He was pushing his upper lip over his nose with his thumbs, revealing the word BRITISH branded on the wet pink flesh squirming above his yellow teeth. Then he pulled his lower lip down over his chin, revealing the word BULLDOG.”

    I am increasingly inured and acclimatised by this 2000 book, something going on here, a deep-rooted acceptability of wrongness to which I as reader become complicit. Or worse than complicity, but actually instrumental while Isserley is complicit with me, in my Esswiss rôle, providing her with books, as it says here. A conspiracy to hide Azathoth at the earth’s core as a brooding BRITISH or BULLDOG Brexit? And some characters are like roadkill. And a Rawhide-type Wishbone cook tempting Isserley with succulent meat, unwashed by chlorine. And Vess’s son a posh mutant beefcake tempting her sexually? A TV set that plays programmes especially for those complicit? Are we vodsels in mauve tights etc. Or merely human beings made to perform in a reality TV show like Big Brother? Reverting to babble. Bathing to clean out all your clefts and rifts, trenches and crevices, tenches and other fishiness. None of this is in the book. But you can’t be sure unless you read it. Hypnotised into belief. “mesmerized by the moon and the monotony…” Is she exploited, as a woman, by the cottage she is made to live in – or pampered?

    “She would have to get up and do her exercises, regardless of what time it was, or she would end up unable to get up at all, trapped in a cage of her own bone and muscle.”

    “She liked sheep more than any other animal; they had an innocence and a serene intentness about them that was worlds away from the brutish cunning and manic excitability of, say, vodsels. Seen in poor light, they could almost be human children.”

  8. 8.

    “Hands and feet spasmed at random, as if a co-ordinated response was struggling vainly to emerge from a befuddled collective organism. Their fat little heads were identical, swaying in a cluster like polyps of an anemone, blinking stupidly in the sudden light. You would never guess they’d have the cunning to run if released.”

    I would never have guessed I would reach this far and the whole world I am reading about transformed but not really transformed at all. Perhaps that’s because I am more in the know than the author himself. About the earth’s core and what I have hawled there. The gestalt of humanity. The disguise of humanity. Gelding is only half the story. And the above quote does not give any real clue as to the rest of it.
    “They couldn’t siuwil,…”
    But I can. Like Esswis.
    The scene Isserley endures with the latest hitcher in this chapter, is just as frightening and loathsome, even more so, in fact, than the thoughts I have been having, the dreams, too, as a result of reading this book. I dare not impart much of it, and that’s not just because of the plot spoilers I always try to avoid when hawling or dreamcatching books. But this time, I am trying to avoid actual READER spoilers, a phenomenon that reviewers rarely encounter, if at all.

  9. 9. & 10.

    I often look at such clouds over the North Sea, just as Isserley does now…

    “A large cloud in the darkening sky was changing shape all the time. Though she was unaware of any wind, there must be powerful forces up there, shaping the cloud, finding it unsatisfactory, sculpting it into something different. It began as a floating map of a continent, then got compressed into a ship, then grew into something very like a whale. Eventually, towards nightfall, it lapsed into something larger, more diffuse, abstract, meaningless.”

    “Whelks. That was the word. Whelks.”

    Not the word I would have used. This is an Isserley crisis, so much so now she chooses a hitcher without enquiring over the loved ones who might miss him. I have wondered for a long time now whether the POV of hitchers in the car pre-toggle will ever migrate to when they are being hawled underground? This hitcher susses Isserley to the bottom bone, still pre-toggle, and surveys the architecture of her breasts etc. As she drives. Exactly later as we are granted a glimpse of the architecture of the ‘cradle’ that is part of the hawling process of these hitchers. I am not surprised that I do not see many hitchers about these days in 2017, and they have probably been depleting since 2000 when this tract was published.

    “It was so hard to be friendly, in any genuinely human way, towards female strangers if you were a male.”

    The political correctness of life, today, the mass culture that has exploded since 2000. That was the year when I first got the Internet.
    Isserley’s initiation now into the bodily hawling and gory unzipping processes represent even further insights into what is actually going on. Surely there is a better word I can use for it than ‘gory’. Azathothine? And I still seem to know more than what I should know, perhaps even more than the book’s author knew at the time he was writing these latest chapters?

  10. 11.

    “‘You know,’ Amlis went on, ‘Some water fell out of the sky not so long ago.’ His voice was a little higher than usual, vulnerable with awe. ‘It just fell out of the sky. In little droplets, thousands of them close together. I looked up to see where they were coming from. They seemed to be materializing out of nowhere. I couldn’t believe it.”

    Amlis and Isserley in almost touching interface, and we learn more of the physical differences plied between them, what is human, what is animal, or vice versa? How he views our Earth, its rain, its sea, its snowclouds that perhaps resemble the noxious smogs whence he comes. The laissez-faire of America today in 2017, its president’s views about climate change and Amlis’ father back home being indeed a sort of Trump. “My father would chop the planet into pieces if he thought there was profit in it.” Fire and Fury indeed! And here the trade in meat … and if you are reading this prophetic book alongside me – on this very day of Fire and Fury emitted by that Trump – you will know exactly what I am talking about. Trash will eat trash, as we in Brexited Britain will one day eat chlorinated chicken?
    This book is a Swiftian immodest proposal.
    With vodsels as voters on Scotland’s future.

    “It was almost cruelly poignant, but delightful too, the way Amlis seemed to regard her as the custodian of an entire world, as if it belonged to her. Which, perhaps, it did.”

  11. 12.

    “Everything was back to normal. Amlis Vess was gone, and she remained, and it was already tomorrow. She should have known from the beginning that it would end like this. Isserley leaned her head back, resting the base of her aching skull on the ceramic lip of the bath.”

    I may have various rarefied theories about this book, all valid to me, though maybe not to you. But one thing I think we all agree on, all you yous out there and me, all you yous who have come with me so far, and I hope this gestalt real-time review vehicle is more than just convincing you of this ….but, disregarding those theories, it is a highly compelling, page-turning read in itself, compelling you equally to stay with it. Now with our own view of Isserley in the bath, seeing through her own eyes her own rough-edged architecture of body and shape, and shaving herself in the bath as many women do in our real world. Then seeing her picking up another hitcher, and then seeing her through HIS threatening eyes as he looks at the spot between HER eyes. Suspense perfected.

    “Her body was invisible below the reflective surface of the water, except for the tips of her toes and the curves of her breasts. She stared down at those alien mounds of flesh, easily imagining them as something other than what they were. Marooned like this in the sunlit water, they reminded her of rocks in the ocean, revealed by the tide. Stones on her chest, pushing her down.”

    That incremental Trump and Brexit thing…

    “Amid much fanfare about escape and pioneering, Vess Incorporated had simply dug them out of one hole and buried them in another.”

    “And what about the way Vess Incorporated conveyed its messages to her via Esswis, despite the fact that everything revolved around her?”

    That question is seminal to this review, I hasten to point out. But you knew that already?

    “…the dwellings and their inhabitants were like tiny shells and shrimps nestling on the seabed under an ocean of pale blue oxygen.”

    Not forgetting the words of that song sung by Cilla Black.

    And so far all her hitchers have been male.

  12. 13.

    “And yet … was it her usual nightmare? Glimpsing its after-image as it faded from her mind, she realized there was something different about it. The way it had made her feel was the same as always, but for the first time, the creature at the centre of the drama seemed to be someone other than herself. Not at the beginning, no: at the beginning it was unmistakably Isserley, being led down into the bowels of the earth. But by the end she seemed to have changed shape, size and species.”

    I knew the bowels of the earth would come up. Not a dream about a dog, although it says it is. The ending, this last chapter, is not rushed, although millions would disagree. A vision of Tesco supermarket and us scavengers as customers. No, couldn’t see it. Don’t force me. I am with Isserley, maybe I AM Isserley, knowing her from within, testing a new toggle in her car, before it gets as wrecked as her, skidding on the Scottish frost….

    “Outside the twisted bones and scarred flesh of one’s own body, life wasn’t shit at all.”

    Our planet beautiful, until someone tries to destroy it?

    But was it significant it was a ‘Mercy Hospital’ that is mentioned … at the end?

    There is so much more to say and question. I feel I have been literally flayed and flensed by this book.
    Esswis Siuwil


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