BOOK REVIEW: The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley

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The Loosening Skin is so unique, and breathtakingly weird that one can’t help but stand back and be amazed. It’s a new breed of horror from a strikingly powerful emerging talent and a book that I just couldn’t get enough of – I read the whole thing in a couple of sittings, such is the readability of Whiteley’s prose and storytelling prowess.

The Loosening Skin is in a way like the bastard child of an orgy that involved David Cronenberg, Naomi Booth’s ‘Sealed‘ with a little sideline fluffing from Philip K Dick. It left me scarred and bruised, but changed me for what I believe is the better, this my friends is how you write weird / science fiction – Whiteley has such a striking voice and delivers a visionary masterclass that blows her competition out of the water.

‘It’s a difficult business, identifying old skins. The feeling you get from touching one is only a reflection of the love the old owner once felt, before it was sloughed away. If it was a particularly strong love you might get images accompanying the feeling: a flash of a face, or maybe even a snatch of music. Still, it’s like piecing together a puzzle, reconstructing an old photograph that’s been torn to pieces.’

The tone of The Loosening Skin reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s work and in particular Fahrenheit 451, there are also luscious moments that had me thinking about Ursula K. Le Guin – and of course a few moments of reminiscing about the master of science fiction Philip K Dick. The Loosening Skin is a dark and foreboding journey into a world which is almost a mirror image of our current society, but with subtle differences. What I’m getting at is although this is quite clearly a science fiction novel with elements of weird fiction – it’s as if combining the two, Whiteley has made a genre all of her own – it’s not all flying cars, crazy neon and lots of fabulous contraptions everywhere. It’s clean, remarkable and unique.

In The Loosening Skin people are suffering from something quite odd, a weird shedding. Each person is struck with this illness (if you can call it that, it’s pretty much their way of life), people moult at various stages of their lives, beginning in adolescence. The skins that are shed contain all the emotions and memories that they had made during the time within their personal cocoon. Lovers. Passions. Desires. Regrets – everything they once were, contained within their shedded skin. It’s a creepy and unique concept, but it’s something I never questioned at all. I also loved that Whiteley didn’t bog the story down with trying to explain why it was like this, things just are, and the novel benefits from this stripping back. The Loosening Skin is so well thought out and fantastically executed – it was as if I were reading an abandoned Philip K Dick novel, such is the astounding quality of Aliya Whiteley’s work.

The world and novel Whiteley has brought to life is cinematic in so many ways, I can almost see film producers rubbing their greedy little hands together thinking about turning this into a film, and what a film it would be – such is the uniqueness of the book and the mastery of the written word that Whiteley has committed to paper.

‘The feeling passed, and I straighten up and check in the bathroom cabinet. Max always a believer in pills, all kind of pills, but I don’t see any, not even the sleeping aids Mike was talking about. Perhaps the last couple of moults have changed that aspect of his personality…’

There is so much to marvel at with The Loosening Skin – from Aliya Whiteley’s sublime opening chapter which immediately sets the reader up for what is going to be a mind fuck of a novel, containing a graphic scene which sets the tone for the rest of the book. I also loved the various words that Whiteley uses to talk about the skins – from moulting, to shedding, to pelts and so on…it was a great little tool that is wielded with a masters touch, each of these little nuances adds a little more depth. I for one was enraptured with her guile and the deft touches sewn throughout the work.

With all the science fiction elements to this book, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just another science fiction book. The true beauty of The Loosening Skin is that it is a book about so much more than science fiction, it’s a novel about love, loss, grief, mistakes, and above all things that make us who we are, and what we are. It’s a book about belonging and finding where or who you might belong to – whatever the cost. But I think what makes the book that much more appealing and powerful is that it is personal. It feels personal, when reading it you can relate to what’s going on and I for one felt it all. I think it’s because of the books main vehicle – is the skin. We all have it, we all can relate to it, we all know how it works and what happens to it when it’s cut or broken.

We’ve been told all our lives that beauty is only skin deep, so what happens when that skin is shed?

Are we still beautiful?

What lurks below waiting to be born?

What do we become?

What happens to the life we’ve lived when we’re done with that epidermis?

More importantly how deep does love go? Does it nestle in our bones, is it what makes us whole? Can we be separated from it, and can we get it back?

Aliya Whiteley’s work is bold, daring, unique and like nothing you’ve ever read before – if you read one book this year, let it be this! An enthralling story which redefines the science fiction genre and gives birth to a storyteller that will, I’m sure, define a generation!

The Loosening Skin is published by Unsung Stories and is available here.

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Aliya Whiteley

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I write about all sorts of things but it would be fair to say I’m drawn to the darker side of life.

My favourite writers are a diverse bunch. Graham Greene and Iris Murdoch and George Eliot. Rupert Thomson and Christopher Priest. Octavia Butler, John Wyndham, Ursula Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Dylan Thomas, TS Eliot. My favourite Shakespeare play is King Lear. No, Much Ado About Nothing. It depends if it’s a tragic or a comic day.

I like those moments in stories where you have no idea what’s going to happen next. The moments when genre can’t save you.

I talked further about this idea of being surprised by stories to The Paperchain Podcast.

 Aliya Whitley will also have an exclusive short story appearing in STORGY BOOKS Shallow Creek Anthology coming soon!

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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