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'( d F - Specialist Study 1st Draft Ms Robertson

Under The Skin - Michel Faber

''Under The Skin" by Michel Faberis a powerful, bleak. tale of morality and suffering. The story
centres on Isserley, a young woman with a seemingly compulsive habit of picking up well-built male
hitchhikers. As the plot develops, the slightly sinister, disconcerting scenario unravels into the
fantastic. Isserley is revealed to be of a race other than human - she is in fact a member of a secret
society of animals, who live hidden underground. Isserley drugs the hitchers she lures into her car,
and delivers them to the "farm". Here the men are kept as livestock, ultimately to be processed,
transported, and sold as an exotic delicacy to the wealthy and powerful ofIsserley's homeland. The
story closes with Isserley being forced to kill herself after a car accident, rather then wait for the
ambulances and the inevitable discovery that she is a strange, alien creature. I intend to study the""
ways in which Isserley experiences isolation from the outside world and those around her, and the
~es Faber uses to illustrate this isolation. .' __ ~10\<.
(V) {., J I MlJCb of IsserJey' S sense of loneliness and detachment stems from her being different, in some
way, from the people she comes into contact with, fuelling her belief that no-one will ever be able to
understand her, or even relate to what she has experienced. The most obvious of these differences is
her physical appearance. In her previous life, Isserley was sent to work in the Estates, a horrific
underground labour camp. Here, the unfortunate members of the lower classes are assigned to
manufacture oxygen and water for "The Elite", society's upper classes. To escape such a fate, Isserley
volunteered to be sent above ground, employed by Vess Industries (a foodstuff company). To
integrate herself into this alien world, Isserley underwent horrific surgery in order to appear like a
''vodsel'' (her race's word for human) female, leaving her unrecognisable as one of her own kind; One
character, Amlis, describes her thus :

"Do you think I can't see that half of your face has been carved off? .. that you've had strange humps
grafted onto you, your breasts removed, your tail amputated, your fur shaved off? "

This haunts Isserley throughout the novel, catalysing bouts of despair and self-pity, or hatred for those
more fortunate than herself. Isserley's disgust at her own body is shown through Faber's emotive
choice of words - \ l:ecruu:q"L.lS!..
/
;'mutilated cripple" "ugly freak"

Isserley believes this is the only way she is seen by others, and therefore. feels that she will never be {> Q. .
cared for, never treated as anything other than the "freak." she describes. If she cannot love herselfr .
? 0 inion it is this inabili to acce t the ossibili of being cared for that causes
Isserley to ·pusbaway those who show affection for her, leaving her alone and without friendship c~ \(.
This is demonstrated by her treatment of Ensel, a worker on the farm whom Isserley cruelly labels as
"trash", despite his obvious fondness for her. A far more tragic example, however, is Amlis Vess, a
rich, upper-class member ofIsserley's race, who falls in love with her. Again, Isserley refuses to
believe this love -

"He reached across and laid a hand gently on her arm.


:Anyway', he said, 'it would be very easy to get seduced by this world It's very, very ... Beautiful. ,,,

"Could he have been meaning to imply she was beautiful too? ... His fingers ... But no, of course he
hadn't meant that"

Isserley falls for Amlis, despite. denying to herself that he could possibly feel the same way. He is the
only character in the novel Isserley finds any kind of connection with, yet he ultimately abandons her,
albeit with a promise of returning. '\ la....> 1<.:. •
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Isserley's loneliness is perhaps most poignant when she is among vodsels. She sees the
hitchers she takes into her car as sickening, pathetic creatures, but ironically these are the only ones inn .
which she can fmd any kind of acceptance, on a physical level. This is undoubtedly painful for ~ y, "".
,Isserley - she is no longer beautiful and admired as she once was, now reduced to the status and
visage of an animal -

" 'I don't know what you expect of me. ' Isserley burst out, suddenly near tears. 'I'm a human being,
not a vodsel. ' "
/te~
.Paber's descriptions of the vodsels, seen through Isserley's eyes, allow the reader to recognise her
point of view, while the fact that she is so repulsed by these creatures, yet shares their appearance,
evokes the reader's sympathy -

".. typical male of the species; stupid, uncommunicative, yet with a rodent cunning .. "

"His eyes met hers; he blushed and smirked cretinously, breathing hard ... she hated him"

Another key incident in the novel, reinforcing Isserley's views of the vodsels, is when she is violently
raped by a hitcher whom she cannot subdue. This occurs, of course, when Isserley is carrying out her
"work". The fact that she is placed at risk alone, that there is no-one to save ber at times like this-;- t:.~sk.
fllrther suggests her isolation. Afterwards, instead of returning to the farm and telling someone w~t
has happened to her, Isserley drives to a quiet bay, to be alone. I feel this shows that there is no-one
-11~f~an trust, or share her feelings with - with no-one to turn to, she keeps her emotions hidden.
.In:: Isserley's resentment grows throughout the novel, not only for the vodsels, but for those of her
own kind, who have not suffered the same cruel fate as herself. She is openly hostile to the men
working on the farm, the only members of her species whom she comes into contact with. Left
without companionship, Isserley spends much of her time lost in her own thought, removed from the
outside world. The writer often takes us inside Isserley's mind, revealing her pain to the reader. She
longs to find solace, to hide from the eyes of others -

"Of course it didn't help that they stared at her breasts and her chisel/edface whenever they thought
she couldn't see"

At one point, she considers sleeping the night in a derelict abbey, but is prevented from doing so in
the knowledge that her spine, twisted and held together with metal plates to assist her in walking on
two legs, would not allow her to do so. At times, Isserley entertains the notion of "quitting" her job of
finding fresh meat for processing. However, this never really comes into practice. In my opinion, this
is because Isserley's job is now her life - she sacrificed her "humanity" in order to prevent being sent
to the Estates, and is left with only one purpose to her existence. Being sent to the Estates also incited
Isserley's hatred of her own kind, as she recalls the many rich young men, destined for a comfortable
life, who complimented her, telling her she would never suffer that fate. Perhaps Isserley's isolation
began at this point, being sent to the Estates - her betrayal bred a bitterness and distrust which she has
C~~?~th her. .
~ Interacting with the vodsels is often a difficulty for Isserley, as she finds their society, culture,
and language confusing. As a contrast to the very dark atmosphere throughout the novel. FabeL
1 h use of humour at times like this. One hitcher, previously a dog-breeder, complains to
Isserley about his difficulty in finding employment, citing the European Union as the reason -
t£c:t,L¥Ut(LUL .
" 'Brussels, ' he declared darkly.

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'Oh, ' said Isserley. She struggled to see the connection between dogs and the small green spherical
vegetables. She was almost certain that dogs were wholly carnivorous. Perhaps this breeder hadfed
his dogs on sprouts; if so, it was no wonder his business had ultimately failed "

Another example of t:li¥ is when IS~ ~~urchase food at a service station. She is
deterred from choosing the microwave hotdog, reasoning that this would be rather hypocritical,
having rescued an abandoned dog earlier t!te same day. While lightening the proceedings, this use of
humour also emphasises how alienatedIsserley is from the vodsel world in which she is forced to
exist, as her viewpoint seems so ridiculousje-esrRejected from her own society, and unable to ever ..
\ really become part of another. Isserley lives as an outcast:- t::o-ok _ 'St'-ru.~/
(\fll ~~ The novel's climactic ending, with Isserley's self-destruction.is an event which can be Sh;\'Q.
>

foreseen early in the story. The changes Isserley has undergone can never be reversed - she is so far
removed from others, that there is doubt she can ever truly find happiness, even in Amlis Vess. She
must either continue living the life as she does, or end it. Although she does not do so entirely of free
Sh-{~ will, there is a suggestion that Isserley will fmd some relief in death, a freedom in the beautiful world
she sacrificed her soul to witness with her own eyes. This is shown in her thoughts, moments before
her suicide - /.
.. ~ckru...l[,u..e .

"And She? Where would she go?


.. She would become part of the sky .. Her invisible remains would combine, over time, with all the
wonders under the sun. When it snowed, she would be part of it, falling softly to earth ., She would
live forever. "

As the story ne
.an
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Vuu( J [U\..-0-)

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