Review: “Skin,” Kathe Koja

Rating: 4 out of 5

Kathe Koja’s horror novel Skin is quite… something. I’m still not entirely sure what I feel about it.

Tess, a welder, makes sculptures out of metal. Bibi uses the medium of dance for her performances. When Bibi meets Tess, the two women spark an unusual relationship. They end up sharing a home, and, together with Bibi’s other friends, start up a performance art troupe known as the Surgeons. When one of the performers is killed during a performance, everything falls apart. Tess goes down the rabbit hole with her sculptures, while Bibi becomes obsessed with cutting and body modification. But their ultimate obsession is each other.

First, what I wasn’t so fond of. Most of the book is about Tess and Bibi’s relationship, and other relationships that are consequential to that. I personally hate reading about the kind of accusations and anger and misunderstandings that can go into the failure of relationships. For a long time the story is mostly about friction between Tess and Bibi and sometimes the people around them. I read for escapism, and while I don’t need a “happy” story in order to escape, I also don’t want something this grating and depressing.

Toward the end, as Bibi’s modifications and behavior become more and more extreme, and Tess becomes more and more internal, I had an easier time getting into things. This was when it finally started to feel like a real horror novel.

I’m giving it a 4 because regardless of how little I enjoyed some of the content, I can see that the book was extremely well-written. It’s very visual, evocative, and creative. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the subject matter appeals to you or puts you off.

Content note: self-harm, cutting (self and others), scarification, body modification, sex (f/f and m/f).

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