The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley
Unsung Stories, 240pp, paperback, £9.99
Reviewed by Megan Leigh @m_leigh_g
Wow. Just wow. The Loosening Skin is one of the best speculative fiction books I’ve read recently and the best I’ve read this year (though it was only the second book I’ve read this year…).
What I have always loved about speculative fiction is its ability to dissect and comment upon society in illuminating ways, forcing people to explore what they previously took for granted. Aliya Whiteley does exactly that. She’s a philosopher, providing insights into the human psyche, opening up minds as she blows us away with beautiful prose.
The novel, the third from Whiteley (all with Unsung Stories), is set in an alternate world. There is only one key difference from the world we all know – in Whiteley’s world, all humans shed their skin every seven years. With these ‘moults’, people lose all romantic attachment. Only friendship and paternal bonds can survive the shedding, and even then, it can be harder for some than others.
The Loosening Skin follows Rose Allington, who suffers from extreme moults, where she must immediately leave everything of her previous life behind her each time. How can she overcome her natural drive to never look back as she is called back by a former lover to help him solve a crime that involves her more than she first realises? And how will the world change once a new drug is invented, allowing people to keep their skins forever?
Whiteley rips apart our accepted ideas of love and romantic connection, asking us to reflect in ways we likely never have. There are so many ideas in The Loosening Skin and all of them are examined in an original manner. From the modern condition of multiple careers to polyamorous relationships to the Hollywood dream – nothing is off limits to Whiteley.
There’s something so easy about Whiteley’s prose despite constantly delivering a dense philosophical gut punch. Her characters are rich but mysterious, flawed and fascinating. The plot twists and turns, blindsiding the reader at every turn while feeling as though it could never really have gone any other way. The Loosening Skin, for me, is what speculative fiction should be.
Verdict: This book is beautiful, inventive, and moving. I couldn’t put it down.