Big Enough to Cover a Dachshund

the book: Under The Skin by Michel Faber    

published  2000

From regular guest blogger  Colm Redmond

She padded over to the wardrobe and selected her clothes for the day, the same clothes as yesterday. The choice, in any case, was from among six identical low-cut tops in different colours, and two pairs of flared trousers, both green velvet. She possessed only one pair of shoes, a custom-made pair which she’d had to return to the shoemaker eight times before she could walk in them. She did not wear underwear, or a bra. Her breasts stayed up by themselves. One less problem to worry about, or two.

[She picks up a hitcher.] 

Observing his rescuer, the hitcher was not impressed. What was this obsession women had with showing cleavage these days? he thought. You saw it all the time on TV, all those greasy-haired young females in London, going to nightclubs wearing little black vests not even big enough to cover a dachshund. They’d get the shock of their lives if they had to survive in the wild, that’s all he could say. No wonder the army wasn’t happy about women soldiers. Would you trust your life to someone who went out in the snow with an acre of tit showing?

observations: The woman in these extracts is Scarlett Johansson’s character in the brilliant film of Under The Skin, in cinemas right now. But the film is so different that it’s scarcely the same story. She doesn’t look or dress much like she does in the book - actually, she looks a little like an androgynous male rocker, like she could have fitted right in with the New York Dolls, below.

The black hair and very-red lips look surprisingly good on her, as you can see in this film still.

The two versions of the character have different names, even; but they do share one thing: they each spend almost all their time in a car, like the unknown lady in the main photo.

The book (like the film) is grim and sometimes horrific; but it is sometimes very funny, particularly in the words of the succession of hitchhikers she collects, and sometimes in her reactions to them. There’s a fine scene where a hitcher suddenly breaks into song and the woman has to choose how to react. Faber - who also wrote The Crimson Petal And The White - doles out information about her slowly, but it is obvious at once that she is in some way other; certainly very different from the generally rough and ready men she picks up.

There’s an element of the “Martian” [describing ordinary things through the eyes of a protagonist to whom they’re not familiar] to all this, and I have a very low tolerance for that device; but I’m happy to say it doesn’t outstay its welcome here. Too often it’s an excuse for being a smartarse, and wasting a lot of words; but Faber uses it mainly as an excuse for being funny when nothing much that’s funny is going on.

The woman is obsessed with her body, for reasons we can’t discuss because it would be a spoiler. In the film, unlike in the book, it’s not her breasts that preoccupy her; but we won’t let that stop us using a splendid pic of Scarlett in best décolletage mode (and a beautiful gold frock to match her usual hair colour.)

If you read Under The Skin, I would advise not looking up unfamiliar words as you go along. Quite a few are not in the dictionary, because they’re made up words and if you Google them you’ll get straight to spoilers about this book, like I did.

Thanks are due once again to Dr Trish Winter for the recommendation.

For more from the guest blogger, click on his name below.


  1. Moira - Thanks for yielding the keyboard to Colm for the day.

    Colm - I absolutely love that line ...not even big enough to cover a dachshund. It's pitch-perfect. And it sounds as though Faber uses wit quite effectively in this novel. And that can really lift up an otherwise dark story. Fascinating protagonist's perspective too. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Margot. Yes some of the hitchers have quite a turn of phrase, and so does the woman to a lesser extent. (Faber is very good at making you forget the same person thought of all those words...)

  3. As I languish in my Bedfordshire cave, I can claim total ignorance of this book and film.........Scarlett who? Don't think I'm going to be troubling Mr Multiplex or Mr Waterstones in respect of this - sorry!
    Top photo made me think of Emily Lloyd.

    1. Now you mention it, yes, reminiscent of Emily Lloyd.

  4. I'm really looking forward to seeing this film but rally want to read the book now as I hadn't realised they took so many liberties with it - thanks.

    1. I gather the film maker made it pretty clear it was going to be a "free" adaptation, Sergio. Maybe freer than people expected.

  5. Well, I haven't heard of either of these, the book or the movie. Have to ask my husband and son... Anyway, both sound fascinating, especially the book.

    OK, just asked my son, who reads more sci fi than I, but mostly fantasy. He had not heard of it either. We just are not up on this. Asked my husband; new to him too. But he liked the look of Johansson in the film. We will look into it.

    And I love all the images you used.

    1. Thanks Tracy. Yes, both the stories could be classed as sci-fi albeit not in a very obvious way. And there's plenty of conventional novelistic characterisation in the book. Visually both versions are striking; and there are lots of interesting scenes and unusual ways of expressing the narrative in the film.


Post a Comment