‘The scars of the past are more than skin deep’
Now this is a very different read.
Described as ‘Deliciously disturbing’, Beneath the Skin is the debut novel from Sandra Ireland.
Published in September 2016 by Polygon, I was only too delighted to be contacted by Dawn Geddes, Freelance Publicity Officer at Bookish PR a few weeks back asking if I would be interested in reviewing Sandra’s book.
With Mary Shelley’s writings being a strong influence on Sandra, I jumped at the chance.
Please continue reading to hear my full thoughts….
‘Taking a job in the studio of an Edinburgh taxidermist probably isn’t Walt’s wisest decision. Suffering from combat stress and struggling to outrun the demons from his past, he now finds himself confronted by the undead on a daily basis.
His enigmatic boss, Alys, and her sister, Mouse, have their own uneasy relationship with the past. Someone doesn’t want to let them go.
Can Walt save Mouse’s eight-year-old son, William, from becoming the next victim?
And can he save himself?’
Deliciously disturbing, this psychological thriller peels back the skin of one modern family to reveal the wounds no one wants to see. It deals with the effects of trauma and how facing up to vulnerability is sometimes the only way to let go of the past.
Robert ‘Walt’ Walton is a war vet after suffering a terrible trauma on duty in Afghanistan. Unable to cope with being back home, he packs his bags and heads to Edinburgh. With no plan in mind he finds himself in Stockbridge with his rucksack on his back, no accommodation and no job.
‘Wanted : Assistant. Must be STRONG and not SQUEAMISH’
A sign catches Walt’s eye and before he really has time to think he finds himself intrigued and enters the premises
‘Floor-to-ceiling shelves of sparrows and magpies and rooks dominated the space, and there were tiny, delicate things too – butterflies pinned to beams, a sharp-nosed shrew beside the till. The cold air smelled of death, but clinically so, as if all the decay had been leached out’.
He is met by the somewhat neurotic and darkly disturbed Alys.
Alys is a taxidermist with some extremely strange views on what she does. Completely immersed in delving ‘Beneath The Skin’ of the creature, Alys sees nothing strange with what she does but sees the beauty and art in all her creations.
Walt, while unnerved, is intrigued enough to take up the job, as accommodation is included and it solves his problems in the short term.
Alys lives with her sister Maura, ‘Mouse’ and Maura’s young son, William. Together the three of them have a very close relationship with secrets that Walt is no part of.
He settles into a routine of sorts in the household, revealing a little of himself and in turn discovering a little about the uneasy and strange atmosphere that exists within the home.
As the book progresses there is quite a Gothic feel from it.
There is something quite macabre in what Alys does:
‘The absence of life alarmed him – shelf upon shelf and row upon row of lifeless bodies, glassy eyes, reaching paws…….there were birds, of course, tiny ones: tits and robins and finches, spiky with claws and beaks and ruffled feathers. There were rats in tuxedos playing cards, stoats smoking cigars. A trio of toads dressed as Chelsea pensioners. But worst of all were the kittens. They took up a whole shelf of their own. It appeared to be a wedding party complete with Siamese vicar in a clerical collar. The ‘bride’, an emaciated tortoiseshell, was dressed in Gothic black lace and the groom sporting a black top hat and a piercing in his little pink nose, was frozen in the act of placing a tiny ring over one of her unsheathed claws’
Who wouldn’t want to read more of that??
Beneath the Skin is a novel that WILL get under your skin. The tense atmosphere leaks out of the pages. The hairs on the back of your neck will rise in anticipation of what is behind a closed door.
At the same time, the story of Maura and William is more of an emotional one. Maura seems almost frozen in time, in a situation she cannot extricate herself from. She remains loyal to her sister at all times, keeping feelings of guilt close to her chest. William, at eight years old, is so unsure of the world around him. He has adopted strange habits for one so young yet not so unusual for the surroundings he finds himself growing up in.
Walt arriving into the household is the catalyst that brings change. His relationship with both Alys and Maura is quite confusing to him, but his relationship with William is very sweet. They appear to have an unspoken respect for each other.
Beneath the Skin is the perfect read if you like something a little different in your psychological thriller. There is quite a dramatic close to the book as events come to a climax and you will find yourself turning the pages at speed. Psychological thrillers are abundant on the bookshelves at the moment but Beneath the Skin brings something different as it has a Gothic angle to the storyline.
It is a wonderfully dark debut from Sandra Ireland and is available to purchase Here
I was also lucky enough to have Sandra join me with a wonderful guest post entitled:
Why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein still Inspires I recommend a read!!
Who is Sandra Ireland?
Sandra Ireland is an award-winning writer, poet and artist.
Born in Yorkshire, she was brought up in the North East and lived for many years in Éire.
Her work has appeared in various women’s magazines and publications such as New Writing Dundee, Dundee Writes and ‘Furies’, an anthology of women’s poetry.
Beneath the Skin is her first novel and was inspired by a love of all things curious and unseen.