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DECEMBER MEETUP - UNDER THE SKIN by MICHEL FABER

One of the "winners" of our four-way tie! See you in December!
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A strange woman named Isserley roams the Scottish Highlands in search of juicy, well-muscled hitchhikers in Faber's menacing but unfulfilling debut novel (after Some Rain Must Fall, a collection of short stories). The opening chapters are suffused with an almost palpable sense of dread: Isserley picks up one hitchhiker after another and engages them in conversation, measuring them against a set of criteria of which the reader, as yet, is unaware. Some of the men are discarded and some are kept; in the process the reader learns that Isserley herself is oddly shaped, with breasts too large, legs too short, and scars everywhere. Faber's pacing here is masterful, with clues precisely dropped and details ominously described. But once Faber reveals the reason Isserley is collecting the hitchhikers (and it's truly bizarre), the book turns from horror to allegory and begins to run out of steam. The central conceit of the allegory is repugnant, but also unimpressive; it feels like something animal rights extremists might have cooked up after watching Soylent Green. Faber possesses an undeniable gift for grotesque imagery ("He grinned so broadly it was like an incision slicing his head in two"), but his unsettling prose doesn't adequately flesh out the underdeveloped premise of the story. Still, the Dutch-born and Australian-raised Faber is a strange and promising new talent, and his next novel might better use the macabre skills he so unnervingly displays here. - Publishers Weekly

The publisher reports that there is lots of excitement about this quirky little import from Scotland, whose heroine--tiny, birdlike Isserley, who wears incredibly thick glasses and has a knock-out figure--picks up for mysterious reasons of her own hitchhikers with big muscles and interesting family stories. - Library Journal

"A fascinating book . . . The fantastic is so nicely played against the day-to-day that one feels the strangeness of both. . . . Remarkable." - The New York Times Book Review

"Alternately gorgeous and terrifying, lyrical and brutal, Under the Skin compels and teases. . . . A growing need to turn the pages sneaks up on you. . . . So satisfying and successful." - Newsday

"A fantastic first novel, a great first novel, so intelligently and beautifully made a book as to deserve a wide readership." - The Boston Book Review

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