Sunday, 12 May 2013

Book Meme Chapter Seven - Most Underrated Book

The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

I have taken my review of this book from my Goodreads account. You may find the original here.

Please keep reading to see why I chose this book for this chapter.

When I first saw a book of human skin I trembled with glee.

The librarian had fetched the book and held it in delicate wrappings in front of me. ‘What is this book made of?’ she asked, a smile and a glint in her eye.

I couldn’t guess.

‘It is made of human skin.’

I don’t think she gleaned from me the desired effect. Instead of acting repulsed, shying away from the thing, I shared her smile and peered closer, reaching out a hand.

‘Please don’t touch.’ She said, pulling the book away into its embrace of wrappings.

So now it may be obvious to you why the title shone out among others at the Oxfam Bookshop that day: I had seen a book of human skin and was morbidly fascinated by the whole thing.

The Book of Human Skin didn’t fail to disappoint me.

Two of the characters were so dripping of evil that they made me shudder more than the notion of a book bound in human skin does. I didn’t think I could hate anyone as much as I hated the stepmother from Of Bees and Mist but I hated the male antagonist, Minguillo, with a passion as well as the deranged Sor Loretta who seemed to represent to me every that was wrong with religion.

Saying that, Minguillo was my favourite of the five narrators. It was just the way he saw things, the way he spoke to the reader:

Did I not take you, as promised, on a long walk in the dark, and did you not choose me as your guide, by reading on? Is not the act of reading a congress as intimate as any carried on between lovers: with only those two parties, the Reader and the Writer, behind the closed doors of the binding, alone and raptly conjoined? You must own how deeply I burrowed my way into your affections with my picturesque atrocities, because you were first entertained by them, and then embraced them. p. 466

Yes, Minguillo’s narration was indeed the most captivating, reminding me of old books that would have been around the time that this novel is set.

Not that the other narrator’s were bad at all. Marcella, the poor sister, of course is a little tragic at some points, and the doctor, her lover, is beautifully knowledgeable about skin, his obsession. Sor Loretta is delightfully grotesque. The author had developed a different speech for the nearly illiterate Gianni. It works tremendously, really making obvious the social standing of the characters.

Lovric has done an immense amount of research for this novel and it is intertwined with the plot naturally, and does not seemed forced: it gives quite a brilliant and genuine reading experience.

I can imagine people not liking this book for its content, but the writing style is not to be criticised at all, really.

Maybe I’m strange, but I find anthropordermic bibliopegy fascinating. So much so that when at university, my class was shown a delectable volume of the craft, I knew exactly what it was going to be. I grinned with satisfaction at the disgust on their faces.


This was definitely a hard book to think about. It’s difficult to define what an ‘underrated’ book is, especially as that opinion would vary from person to person. I regularly see The Book of Human Skin in charity shops, as if people are donating it because they didn’t like it.

I loved The Book of Human Skin. Several things attracted me to it: I like paperbacks that are designed to look like old, crumbling books – see also The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, another sadly underrated book – but also the title and the very idea of the book thrilled me. Ever since my encounter with a book of human skin at Bath Central Library I have been enthralled by anthropordermic bibliopegy.

The Book of Human Skin, Michelle Lovric, Bloomsbury, London 2011

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