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Book Group: Aug 2015 - Under The Skin discussion thread

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Aug 2015
4:31pm, 2 Aug 2015
5399 posts
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Little Nemo - this kitten can
*** Do not read on if you haven't already read Under The Skin by Michael Faber ***

Spoilers ahead! :-)
Aug 2015
1:32pm, 3 Aug 2015
1181 posts
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DazTheSlug
I read UTS at the beginning of June and this is what I posted on the main Book Group thread:

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

not overly impressed
not really sure what the author was trying to prove
very basic story about some aliens abducting humans to fatten up/slaughter/eat, but this was easy to guess from about chapter 2, so was really just background
not much else happened other than predictable episodes in which a hitcher turned nasty and with the police eventually investigating
I'm guessing the main thing the author was doing was by making nearly everything from Isserley's POV, but she wasn't sufficiently alien to be interesting, or sufficiently human to be sympathetic
issues of class and animal rights were touched on, but either so subtly as to be hardly noticeable or so blatant as to feel you were being hit over the head
it wasn't *that* bad though, I'd give it 6/10
the dialogue was good (with the hitchers and with the boss's son)
it was mercifully short
and the writing was er... adequate i.e. just solid/workmanlike, which was my main disappointment as a couple of the reviews I read mentioned the "unearthly, luminous prose" and "could teach Conrad a thing or two about constructing the perfect sentence" - both of these reviewers must've been reading a different book to me :-(
Aug 2015
10:12am, 12 Aug 2015
642 posts
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westmoors
I really enjoyed this. It had me gripped from the start.

Yes, there wasn't much in the way of story, but I enjoyed the inner turmoil Isserley was going through...no longer one of her race, but not a "vodsel" either. I also thought it refreshing that Isserley and Esswis were surgically altered rather than being shapechangers as in a lot of other alien novels.

My biggest issue was reading this on a Kindle - I thought I still had a way to go as it was only displaying 87%, when I realised I was reading the final few paragraphs. The remaining 12 - 13% was the first 2 chapters of another Faber book which I didn't read.
Aug 2015
6:07pm, 16 Aug 2015
390 posts
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Unity
I've just finished reading Under the Skin - thankfully. It was difficult to push myself through it.

I agree with Daz.

I wasn't impressed by the writing as I felt that Faber tried much too hard and therefore it was strained. The best of the writing was, as highlighted by Daz, in the conversations.

I'll not be reading another of Faber's books but I am pleased to have been pressed into reading UTS to have some insight into the preferences of others.
Aug 2015
9:27pm, 18 Aug 2015
7513 posts
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Columba
I was gripped by it, but can't say I enjoyed it.

Clearly a polemic against factory farming; - castration for obvious reasons, reduce testosterone, make them less aggressive. Wondered why they cut their tongues out, though; parallel with de-beaking intensively-farmed chickens, but didn't seem any point in it with the vodsels. The "humans" didn't seem to think vodsels were able to communicate, so why bother preventing them? Even if they could communicate, why bother stopping them?

As with factory-farmed animals, they were given food which was bad for their health (permanent diarrhoea) but which bulked them up quickly, ready for the table.

Also a polemic against the exploitation by Big Business of individuals. Isserley has no real choice but to accept this "job". The "humans" who prepare the vodsels, slaughter them and butcher them don't get the best cuts of the meat, - that is all for export - all they get is the offals. "The Elite" run the show, both with regard to the Ablach farm project and back on their home planet.

Also a Dire Warning against environmental destruction. On the home planet there are chronic shortages even of water and oxygen; the work of people in "The Estates" is to generate oxygen. Earth, with its huge quantities of water (sea, rain, snow) is a revelation to those like Isserley and Amliss who visit it. One presumes that the home planet had once (aeons ago, perrhaps) been in much better nick than it is in the present. Nobody goes outside now, everyone lives under the surface. I must admit, I enjoyed the beauties-of-nature descriptions, especially as seen through Isserley's eyes.

Back in the late 1950s, or maybe it was the early '60s, someone said of John Osborne's and Arnold Wesker's work (the "angry young men"): "They are postmen; they deliver messages". The same might be said of this book, and I feel a bit cheated; I don't feel a novel should "deliver messages", not in such an obvious way, anyway.
Aug 2015
9:29pm, 18 Aug 2015
7514 posts
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Columba
Yes, the dialogue was good, and I liked the way we got the hitchers' "thoughts" about Isserley as well as hers about them (all except for the would-be rapist, I don't think we got his thoughts).
Sep 2015
12:02am, 6 Sep 2015
670 posts
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WtnMel
Overall I enjoyed this. There wasn't much in the way of a story as it became obvious after a while that Isserley was going to be questioning her role in collecting vodsels and was angry at what had been done to her. But there were enough side storylines to stop me getting bored with the book.

I liked the way we heard the hitcher's thoughts as well as what was happening from Isserley's point of view. As Columba said, it was clearly a polemic against factory farming by putting humans in the place of animals by referring to them as vodsels.

Like Westmoors I thought there was going to be more storyline when the book suddenly stopped and I was being shown two chapters of another book. I didn't have a problem with how the book actually ended - it was just irritating.
Sep 2015
4:53pm, 6 Sep 2015
7699 posts
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Columba
It was a bit abrupt. I didn't get the two chapters of another book, though.
Oct 2015
10:06pm, 7 Oct 2015
18640 posts
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McGoohan
I really really enjoyed this book. hadn't seen the film so that helped.

There was an air of growing tension as it was clear something was going to go wrong with the plan. Deliberately, we are made to side with Isserley and her people: they are 'humans' and the inhabitants of this planet are 'vodsels', animals in the eyes of her kind.

I didn't think it was entirely about factory farming - I reckoned there might be a subtle subtext about we see/speak of other nations/races as well, as if they are beneath our attention.

What really won it for me was when we got to see where and how the vodsels are fattened up and slaughtered. It put me in mind of the sickeningly clinical descriptions in American Psycho.

In short, I loved this book. Tossing up between 8 or 9 out of 10
Oct 2015
6:47pm, 15 Oct 2015
6923 posts
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LindsD
I read this some years ago and absolutely loved it. It took me ages to work out what was going on and when I did, I thought it was a clever conceit. Perhaps I am naive...

A lot of Michel Faber's books are very different from this one - please don't let this put you off if you didn't like it. I haven't seen the film but have recorded it.

I agree with McG, I don't think it's just about farming, I think it's about seeing things from other people's pov.

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