Tuesday, 24 March 2020

'Under The Skin' by Michel Faber

Over the last few weeks as the coronavirus has spread over to these shores I’ve been reading ‘Under The Skin’ by Michel Faber, the original novel from 2000 of which there was a movie made in 2013. I’ve been totally gripped by it, a real page turner as they say, concerning the mysterious Isserley who drives her red Corolla on the A9 around the remote Highlands of Scotland near Inverness picking up male hitchhikers. The slow reveal of who is she is, what she is doing and why she is doing it, much of it cleverly written from the perspective of the hitchhikers themselves as they travel in her car, is what had me drawn into the novel throughout. This, as well as the skilful exploration of Isserley’s psychology and, despite the awfulness of much of what it transpires she is involved in (I don’t what to spoil it), the immense sympathy, and even empathy, one can’t help but feel for her. At times it was genuinely disturbing and had me thinking about it a lot in the periods I was waiting to pick it up again, either on the bus home or in the corner of the living room on the settee while the kids ate tea. It’s been the best thing I’ve read in ages. I’d really recommend it. It’s underlying themes of living alongside foreign bodies beyond our everyday reality seems particular relevant just now.
I came to the novel having prior to this read ‘The Weird and The Eerie’ by Mark Fisher, a really enjoyable collection of short essays that uses many cultural and philosophical references to explore the theme of our relationship with said the weird and the eerie in the world. There was a chapter about ‘Under The Skin’, but the movie which has a distinctly more ‘eerie’ tone than the book because, as Fisher rightly points out, because of the absence from the audience of so much in the film: who is (Isserley) the woman picking up men in Glasgow? Why? Where and what is this weird space they go to in the house? Who is the other man on the motorbike? None of these questions are ever really answered in the movie, but are in meticulous, sometimes frightening detail in the novel. I’m a big fan of the film too. Jonathan Glazer, the director and co-screenwriter, adapts the bare bones of the novel into an equally disturbing and unsettling piece of cinema which also lingered with me long after watching. Apparently, he spent years writing the screenplay. 
Mica Levi, composer of the movie soundtrack
The soundtrack by Mica Levi is brilliant too, but also really unsettling. I bought it having loved it in the movie, but I have to confess I find it impossible to listen to as it freaks me out too much. I invariably listen to a lot of my favourite music in the studio late at night, down in the depths of my garden, with darkness all around me as I work, and if one of the tracks from the soundtrack makes its way into, or creeps its way in more like, the ‘shuffle’ on my Walkman I find myself reaching for the skip button rather quickly….it is brilliant though. I’m just a scaredy cat these days. Here’s a link to how she made it: