Under Your Skin: book review
By Conor O’Neill
Under Your Skin is Belfast author, Rose McClelland’s, fourth novel. This being her first psychological thriller. McClelland’s previous three novels were romantic fiction; there are little pieces of the prior creeping into this, but not to the point that set sirens off or makes the novel any less of a good read.
219 pages, 37 chapters, with the shortest being just four pages long. With such a frantic pace, it’s a hard book to put down. Excluding the usualcoffee and grub intervals, I had this novel read, all the while making notes, in under five hours.
Crime/psychological thriller is not the usual novel I read or review, but in the current climate of suspicion and 24 hour true crime running on our TV screens, McClelland has tapped in with a divining rod to our deepest fears and an obviously large market.
First out of the traps is the style of prose familiar to journos the globe over: write in the present tense. It’s plain to see McClelland is also a reviewer and has history in getting the most out of an audience from the get go. All scenes, direct speech and even memories are told in the active voice. This immediacy, along with the subject matter involves the reader in a way that’s not quite bombastic, yet the pace swings along with an easy flow mixed with the type of tension which has made this genre one of the biggest in recent publishing history.
And what’s it about you may ask? Well, the immediate hook is a 999 call; from there on in, intrigue, second guessing, suspicion, trying to understand the main characters keep the pages rolling with ease.
Females dominate the story/stories; yes, there are many subplots to steer the mind away from the linear of the main tale. All 37 chapters have nothing more of a title than a woman’s name: Hannah, Kerry, Julia, Kate. Each character is well rounded and intelligently thought through. Of course, there are male characters, though to my mind the men in this read, while much more than simple distractions, are less well formulated than their female counterparts.
Under Your Skin is a book written by a female, the focus is mainly on the female characters and the topics addressed are seen most noticeably through a woman’s perspective. Don’t expect car chases, overtly action packed scenes or high octane drama.
McClelland’s real strength in this novel is much more haunting than male bravado fight scenes. The crux of this read are the intimate, personal and claustrophobic dramas of the mind. Anyone, male or female who has had the misfortune of depression, oppression, panic attacks or addiction will surely see a little of themselves in many of the characters.
Set in Belfast, those familiar with the city will easily recognise the references to major landmarks, pubs, street names, little nuances of dialogue and other little asides. But the universal, and frankly disturbing and challenging themes explored in this book, take it further than just a read for Northern Irish folks.
And here in lies my biggest gripe with the novel. I’m all for the ‘live local, think global’ aspirations of any one with a creative mind. But there are a few glaring obstacles that stuck in my craw. The main flaw, and I can see why McClelland put this in, both as a plot necessity and to reach out to the US audience, but I’ve never been in a Belfast house that has a basement. Before reaching to a wider audience, I think satisfying your closest audience should take prevalence over global markets. That and the far from rainbows and unicorns, yet very tidy conclusion are the only two real problems I have with this read.
But let’s focus on the many pluses of this book. McClelland tells a damn good story, one that is edge of the seat, frantic page-turning reading; she tackles issues many writers wouldn’t dare to tread near, and the majority of the characters as well as the plot are well thought through and written in an engrossing manner. With this, her first foray into the psych/thriller genre, she’s made an impact that will leave you eagerly waiting on her next walk on the dark side.