Australian writer Michel Faber, now well ensconced in Scotland, has written a wildly imaginative, scorching, bizarre, and insidious first novel that is generating critical praise and word-of-mouth buzz. In Under the Skin, Faber reverses many roles: animals are humans; humans become animals; and hitchhikers are victims rather than dangerous passengers.

Isserley, the book's heroine, has had her animal figure surgically altered to attract suitable human male hitchhikers men with no families who won't be missed and, most importantly, men with just the right balance of body fat and muscle. Her passengers see only enough to be sexually drawn in, as moths to a light. These hitchhikers run the gamut of the male sex; she befriends a graduate student, a piece of trailer trash, an itinerant philosopher, and a quayside mug, among others. Each fails to see in Isserley's thick-lensed glasses and odd posture anything more than a tragic genetic failure. This oversight usually proves to be a fatal error.

Faber's attack on contemporary morality and hypocrisy is unsparing and leaves few human virtues unscathed. Although the message of Under the Skin is ultimately compassionate and humane, the book is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish. Its only shortcoming is the lack of a cover endorsement by Hannibal Lecter, who would surely find Under the Skin great reading.

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