Book choice for January 2015

Under The Skin [suggested by Eve Lennard]

Under The Skin

Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her.

So begins Michel Faber's first novel: a lone female scouts the Scottish Highlands in search of well-proportioned men and the reader is given to expect the unfolding of some latter-day psychosexual drama. But commonplace expectation is no guide for this strange and deeply unsettling book; small details at first, then more major clues, suggest that something deeply bizarre is afoot. What are the reason's for Isserley's extensive surgical scarring, her thick glasses (which are just glass), her excruciating backache? Who are the solitary few who work on the farm where her cottage is located? And why are they all nervous about the arrival of someone called Amlis Vess?

The ensuing narrative is one of such cumulative, compelling strangeness that it almost defies description--the one thing that can be said with certainty is that Under The Skin is unlike anything else you have ever read. The result is a narrative of enormous imaginative and emotional coherence from a writer whose control of his medium is nearly flawless and who applies the rules of psychological realism to a fictional world that is terrifying and unearthly to the point that the reader's identification with Isserley becomes one of absolute sympathy. [Product description from Amazon]

The book has its own Wikipedia page, and has also been made into a film which has a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Wikipedia page.

 

Shortlisted for this month

This month Eve's other two suggestions were:

The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White

Although it's billed as "the first great 19th-century novel of the 21st century," The Crimson Petal and the White is anything but Victorian. It's the story of a well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who spends her free hours composing a violent, pornographic screed against men. Michel Faber's dazzling second novel dares to go where George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and the works of Charles Dickens could not. We learn about the positions and orifices that Sugar and her clients favour, about her lingering skin condition, and about the suspect ingredients of her prophylactic douches. Still, Sugar believes she can make a better life for herself.

When she is taken up by a wealthy man, the perfumer William Rackham, her wings are clipped and she must balance financial security against the obvious servitude of her position. The physical risks and hardships of Sugar's life (and the even harder "honest" life she would have led as a factory worker) contrast--yet not entirely--with the medical mistreatment of her benefactor's wife, Agnes, and beautifully underscore Faber's emphasis on class and sexual politics.

In theme and treatment, this is a novel that Virginia Woolf might have written, had she been born 70 years later. The language, however, is Faber's own--brisk and elastic--and, after an awkward opening, the plethora of detail he offers (costume, food, manners, cheap stage performances, the London streets) slides effortlessly into his forward-moving sentences. When Agnes goes mad, for instance, "she sings on and on, while the house is discreetly dusted all around her and, in the concealed and subterranean kitchen, a naked duck, limp and faintly steaming, spreads its pimpled legs on a draining board." Despite its 800-plus pages, The Crimson Petal and the White turns out to be a quick read, since it is truly impossible to put down. [Regina Marler, writing on Amazon.com]

The book has a Wikipedia page, and has also been made into a 4-part TV mini-series.

About the Author

This novel is also by Michel Faber - see above.

 

Once Were Warriors

Once Were Warriors

This hard hitting story is a frank and uncompromising portrayal of Maoris in New Zealand society. It is a raw and powerful story in which everyone is a victim until the strength and vision of one woman transcends brutality and leads the way to a new life. [Product description from Amazon]

Once again this book has its own Wikipedia page, and has been made into a film which has a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Wikipedia page.
Alan Duff does not (at the time of writing) have a website, but they're quite proud of him in New Zealand.

 

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