The Novel That Explains How Theres Nothing More Terrifying Than Being Human

Michel Fabers Under the Skin, tells the story of an alien woman who has to abduct hitchhikers to be processed as a luxurious food on her planet.

Many times I've heard people victimizing themselves and complaining about everything, even envying plants for just existing without having to make tough decisions. No offense, but that's stupid, not because I think we're superior beings or anything like that, but this self-pity is just lame. However, the book we're going to talk about poses this matter in a very straightforward way. Published in 2000, Under the Skin tells the story of Isserley, an alien sent to Earth (specifically, northern Scotland) disguised as a human to abduct muscular men.

Of course, that is a very short and quite rough summary of the plot, since it poses some deep and complex questions about our very nature. But first, let's take a good look at the story. The novel opens with Isserley going after a hitchhiker that's going to become her next victim. At the beginning you don’t really understand that she’s, in fact, a creature from another planet, but as the plot starts unveiling, the narrator gives slight hints to let you know she’s not a common human being. So, why is she sent to kidnap these men?

Isserley works for an extraterrestrial company that produces and packs food, human food to be precise. Called voddissin, this meat is a luxurious food for the elite at her home planet. Her job is to get the stock, or vodsels (their name for humans), and send them to her planet so that it can be processed, packed, and distributed. More than doing her job, being on the planet Earth becomes an escape from her daily life. Not belonging to the elite society, she and the rest of the low-class inhabitants of her planet live underground. After taking the number of vodsels that are required, she goes to the beach to enjoy the natural luxuries human beings neglect. 

Everything seems to be normal with her job and life until one of the hitchhiker’s rapes her. She kills him but decides to abandon the body. Although she manages to get out of it, the experience marks her, but she decides to move on. We’re not going to delve more into the plot, but this is actually the moment when things start changing. At first, she didn’t mind doing that job, since she didn’t really know the raw process of the food processing, and also because she felt detached from human beings. But this traumatic experience makes her realize that, at the end of the day, she isn’t as different as she thought, and in fact, we all are organically made and thus equal.

Michel Faber makes a raw commentary on how our sense of superiority is nonsensical by putting human beings in the place of other creatures we use at our convenience. Now, this isn’t a moralistic view on our food consumption, nor tries to change your likes. It's more of a criticism against those attitudes we have towards others and how they indirectly affect our surroundings. It deals with sexism, our consumerism, the planet’s decay, identity, sexuality, rationality, and even our ability to feel compassionate. 


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