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Monday, February 26, 2018

Under the Skin (2000) by Michel Faber

Image result for under the skin scarlett johansson nude
Scarlett Johansson did her first ever nude scene for the movie version of Under the Skin.  The movie was a gross simplification of the book.
Book Review
Under the Skin (2000)
by Michel Faber

   Author Michel Faber was born in the Netherlands, moved to Australia as a child and writes his fiction in English.  Under the Skin was his first novel, and it was followed, two years later by The Crimson Petal and the White, which was a smash hit.  Under the Skin got a movie version featuring Scarlett Johannson in the lead role, but the movie bombed, and that has hurt any claim for canonical status.   I've seen the film in bits and pieces over the years, 15 minutes on an airplane here, half an hour on the television there.  I think, unsurprisingly, the movie flattened out the book and in doing so reduced Under the Skin to a monster movie.

  Under the Skin is most emphatically not a horror genre exercise, although the story, about an alien brought to Earth in order to lure humans into a meat processing facility for export to the home planet, is horrific.  The aliens call themselves "human beings," and look something like dogs or foxes, in terms of facial features, being on all fours and being covered in fur. The protagonist has been surgically altered to look human, supplemented with daily full body shaving and huge coke bottle glasses to prevent humans from seeing the small size of her eyes.

  The best parts of Under the Skin involve descriptions of the planet where these aliens come from- dry- people living underground, manufacturing oxygen in giant pits of decaying vegetation.  The alien human hunter- called Isserley - who works by picking up male hitchhikers near the meat processing facility in rural Scotland, is privileged to be the only being from her planet that is free to move on Earth.  This experience is brought into focus when the wealthy scion of the owner of the food processing corporation shows up at the farm and starts asking questions similar to what an animal rights activist would say today about industrial farming techniques.  The visitor reveals that the people on Isserley's home planet think that humans, called vodesels by the aliens, are told that humanity are dumb animals, incapable of communication.

  Under the Skin lends itself to many different readings, whether centered on immigration, gender or class.  I think it works on all those levels, and despite the Scottish locale,  is as generically international as a book can be.

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