Thursday, September 16

Book Review: The Book of Human Skin

Title: The Book of Human Skin

Author: Michelle Lovric

Pages: 500

Summary: The Book of Human Skin, set in the early nineteenth century, is a vivid portrait of characters relentlessly, sometimes sensationally, caught up in one another's machinations.

A chorus of five very different voices tells the tale of Marcella Fasan, who is condemned to live fiction lives - cripple, madwoman, nun - as the result of her brother's livid jealousy, a loyal servant's prevarications, her lover's poverty, an the dangerous delusions of a holy anorexic. Marcella's adventures straddle the Old World and the New: her journey takes her from Napoleon's shamed Venice to the last picaresque days of colonial Peru. This is a novel about unmigrated villainy, love beset by obstacles, quack medicine, Christian fundamentalism - an a very unusual kind of bibliomania.

My Rating: 8/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: This was a very unusual read for me, and it did take me a while to get used to the narrative of the novel, that was a bit slow to start. Despite all of these initial issues with the book, it was a fantastic read. Something, pulled me into it, and at times I didn’t want to put it down. Perhaps it is because there are multiple voices telling a story, almost like glimpsing at pieces of journals of people who lived long ago (at least I felt this way after I got used to the narrative.) Either way, I was pulled in by the story and its characters - despite their personalities, which had waiting for them to get what was coming to them.

Lovric can tell a great story; this was a well though out book, with some lovely descriptions of Venice and Peru life. She was detailed in her historical fiction, although things altered to make for better reading, I thought she did an incredible job at researching the background and historical events and peoples of the book, and bring those to life in the book. At the end there were several pages describing the different historical events, people, places and items she had in the book, and where she got them, or who/what inspired her. Well done in that department.

The characters made the book. Each had a distinct voice and personality in the book, which was consistent to that character throughout. And boy can she write some truly insane, cruel characters, you just love to hate. I don’t think there was a character I adored, although some of them I liked better than others, it was the evil ones I loved to read about, to see what new thing they’d try next. The nun, Sor Loreta, was a very unusual character. I don’t think I ever encountered a character like her in my readings before, and not sure I would ever want to. But, she was a very unique character to read about.

Each of the five main characters tell the story, which surrounds the life of Marcella Fasan. I thought this was a clever ploy, as each character had a different insight on the world, and brought something to the book and story. Each characteralso had their own tone and “language” so to speak. When they wrote, you could almost here the character’s voice, their accent, their education level. It was well thought out, but this is also what nearly turned me off the book to begin with, and I think what could be problematic for other readers out there. I found being thrown into the book with the constantly switching narrative, and the stories not yet linking together from these five different narratives hard to follow. It was difficult to get through at first, and hard to see where the author was going. It lasted a good 100 pages for me. But, the book turned out to be a great read, so I’m glad I stuck it out. Something about it pulls you in, and no, the book is not bound in human skin (thankfully), but it does have a small subplot on collecting books of skin, which will make you cringe.

Overall despite some early problems I had with the book, it was well worth reading and a great example of historical fiction.

Would I recommend it to read:

What to read next: I'm not sure on this one, a very unusual book, that's for sure. Although it has perked my interest to want to read more books set in South America during the time. So I'd start there.

Challenges: Read 'n' Review, Pages Read, 10/10 Challenge, 100+ Challenge, Bibliophilic Challenge, Countdown Challenge, RYOB Challenge

I received this book as part of LibraryThings Early Reviews Program.


  1. Oh my! This does sound like an excellent read and very much like something I'd like to get my hands on. I actually like books that have a lot of POV switching and as I am sure you already know, I really enjoy historical fiction. I am going to be looking for this book, and I thank you for your excellent review!

  2. Sounds very unique, and the title certainly grabbed my attention.

  3. Zibilee - You would definitely like the narrative then, mixed in with the historical fiction aspect, and this will be perfect book for you. It should be out in stores (and libraries) now, so keep an eye out for it.

    Diaryonaneccentric - It was very unique, especially the bibliomania aspect (I think I draw the line with my book obsession, at collecting books bound in human, or any kind of skin.)

  4. I love your site! I stumbled across it as I was looking for a 'honest' review about Book of Human Skin - the varying dialects put me off four pages in - ugh! I was wondering if I should retry. Or begin reading The Passage. And I just love tour honesty about the book quality. Very helpful. Thanks!

  5. I love your site! I stumbled across it as I was looking for a 'honest' review about Book of Human Skin - the varying dialects put me off four pages in - ugh! I was wondering if I should retry. Or begin reading The Passage. And I just love tour honesty about the book quality. Very helpful. Thanks!

  6. Dominic - It's a book worth retrying. It may take a while to get used to the dialect, but it's well worth continuing. I'm glad yo enjoyed the review and site.