Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Under the Skin – by Michael Faber

I have to warn the reader that this review will reveal details that, if kept from you, could make reading the book more compelling. Therefore, I’d politely suggest that if you are into weird thrillers with a sarcastic twist, you go out and buy the book before you continue reading here!

Under the skin is a story about a modern and successful corporation, who, by ruthlessly riding the most basic laws of the market, is making a fortune with import/export in the alimentary field. The corporation is run by a Mr. Vess, who has sent an undercover team of workers in the Scottish Highlands where they have set up a first preparation unit within the boundaries of an old farm.

The team includes managers, butchers, unskilled workers, catering personnel, and a silicon-pumped, surgically beautified girl. Isserly, this is her name, spends her days cruising extensively along the A9 motorway, with the purpose of alluring potential prey into her red Toyota Corolla. These are solitary, brawny, stranded, male specimens of what Isserly and her crew call, in their native language, vodsels. Once Isserly ascertains that nobody is going to be looking for the vodsel, she anaesthetises it and carries it back to the farm, where the victim will be kept for a month until it’s ready to be shipped to the factory headquarters for packaging and placing on sale.

It is, initially, hard to make out the above. Especially because the mentioned and oblivious victims are students, occasional farm workers, unemployed men, all of them hitchhikers trying to reach Inverness, Dundee, Aberdeen, and so on. Our brain refuses to believe that the reason why Isserly, a human looking alien, picks them up from the freezing mountain roads, is that back in her native planet, human flesh is the new delicacy, and has become a sort of status symbol, so desirable that the monthly consignments that leave the farm by spaceship are not sufficient to satisfy the monstrous demand.

What deliberately confuses the reader is that Isserly and her fellow countrymen for example refer to themselves as the humans, or they don’t eat their prey, but feed on voddissin or mussanta paste on freshly baked bread, which in our globalised and multicultural world don’t sound more foreign to the Italian or Anglo-Saxon ear than sushi or guacamole. Truth be told, most of the invented vocabulary that Faber casually throws here and there reminded this reviewer of an IKEA catalogue! You wonder whether this was a deliberate joke at the expenses of the Swedish furniture giant so favoured by the modern yuppies…

Regardless of the brilliant sci-fi trick, Under the skin is a satire of how shallow our society has become and more to the point of the hypocritical way humans treat animals. Isselry and her race consider the hitchhikers as mere commodity market: they are captured and overfed to become raw meat on the table of rich fellow countrymen, “back home”. There’s no respect for the stories they tell Isserly before she makes her decision on their suitability as quarry and stings them with an anaesthetic drug. They are revolting, until they are properly processed and cooked. The fantastic exchange of opinions between Isselry and the vegetarian son of Mr. Vess about the opportunity or not to eat sheep instead of men is hilarious and meaningful at the same time…

The denunciation of the brutal treatment we (and as a convinced carnivor I must put myself in that lot) reserve for our food, brings to mind the recent discussion on cows’ emotions and needs. It’s for everybody to individually decide, according to their consciousness, whether that T-steak deserved to be butchered on the basis of her previous moral stature!

One last word is on the tout coeur condemnation of our culture: from the emptiness of the TV, where only loud and half naked characters can be seen (and if Faber has this opinion of the British television, we dare him spend a week in front of RAI and Mediaset, in Italy!), to the list of disgusting ingredients in the snacks that Isselry is forced to eat when she can’t get her mussanta paste, as well as careerism, social climbing, absence of moral scruples, are all touched at some point. The only thing that comes out splendidly is the beautiful landscape of the Scottish Highlands, with its endless sky and the savageness of the Nordic Sea. However, whatever about saving money and mingling with the locals, do not put your thumb out on the A9!

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