As promised, a brief review of Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Arguably one of the most disturbing books I've ever read (included in the running are American Psycho, Blood Meridian, and that horrifying short story with the peanut by Chuck Palahniuk.) If you have a strong stomach, an appetite for thick social commentary, and crave insane narratives, read Under the Skin. So if that includes you, stop reading now because this book is better without all of the spoilers I'm about to spoil below.
If you made it this far you either have no interest in reading the book or you completely disregarded what I JUST SAID and are going ruin a really great book for yourself. Here's the run down on Under the Skin: Isserley is our young female alien protagonist who has been sent to Earth by her corporate bosses to collect unsuspecting hitchhikers to bring back to the farm. Once there, these hitchhikers are processed ("intestinally-modified" is a phrase that will haunt me for the rest of my life), fattened, and eventually killed for meat. I had a hard time reading this one on my lunch break.
This book works on many levels as allegory. The most obvious layer is the meat industry. At times this was a bit heavy handed. I like my allegories like Georges Seurat paintings-- meaningless dots up close and full pictures from a bit back. (Side note: Michel Faber is actually not a vegetarian. Don't know what to make of that.) The strongest element in this allegory is it called me on all of my crap. Faber knew exactly what excuses the reader would be making to explain why humans & cows are so different and immediately came up with a clever way to thwart that. Again, sometimes it felt like he was a bit overeager, but maybe I needed that.
There are plenty of other themes if animal rights isn't your thing. Faber also touches on class disparity, big business, sexual identity, among others. I was most intrigued by the themes of gender found in the book. Isserley, in her own way, is quite the stereotypical hardcore man-hating feminist. Betrayed by the young men who said they'd protect her on her home planet, she's become bitter and hardened toward men. Still she represents so much on a feminist scale of her own. From her gigantic fake breasts to her grandma-like face, she is a product manufactured to distract, comfort, titilate but ultimately condemn. I still don't even know exactly what Under the Skin is trying to say about gender, but I know it's a lot.
This book will stick with you. Readers beware.