Aliya Whiteley, The Loosening Skin, Unsung Stories, 2018.
Once upon a time, if you had told me "weird fiction", I'd have run screaming. It conjured images of ick and ick-ier in the vein of Burrough's Naked Lunch. But a couple of writers have reconciled me with the genre until I finally read Aliya Whiteley last year. I would now cross a sea to buy her latest books and this latest novella of hers is another brilliant story.
Rose Allington now works in a charity shop. She used to be a bodyguard. She also used to be a P.I. Everytime she sheds her skin, she feels the urgent and irrepressible need to change her life. Because yes, humans shed their skin regularly, but on Rose it has a dramatic effect, to the point that when she was the bodyguard of Max, a famous film star, she even abruptly stopped their relationship. But now Max is back in her life because one of his own past skins has been stolen and he wants to have it back.
The premise is a fascinating one: shedding our skins, like snakes would; such a striking metaphor for the way we change all along our lives, for the people we leave behind, the way we reinvent ourselves, but also for the way we sometimes cling to little objects who remind us that lost past.
And this is what The Loosening Skin is: a beautiful story about humanity and passing time or passing feelings, about finding our place in this world and in our own history. It is also a remarkable story about love, nostalgia and abuse and how some people could confuse one with the other.
Shedding skin and losing your feelings; getting into a relationship with one skin and enjoying every moment of it and hoping against all hope you won't lose your skin too soon. The Loosening Skin tells the tragedy of inconstancy, but also of how the passing of feelings builds who we are.
Rose, the main character, was also a real highlight of The Loosening Skin to me. It had been a while since I had felt such kinship with a character. Rose, who burns all bridges with each shed skin and so has difficulties in maintaining lifelong relationships - whether it is a friendship, a family relationship or a love relationship - really hit home, as she will, I believe, with every reader who has either reached middle age or lived a very full young life.
The writing artfully alternates with a first person narrator or a third person narrator, with present and the past, a tangled mess (which, obviously, is no mess at all) that weaves the sad story of what goes and never comes back, of who you are and who you were. Instead of being offputting (because it would be gimmicky or because you wouldn't know what is happening), it really draws you in until the final paragraphs.
Once again, Aliya Whiteley writes a story I've loved and read in one sitting. She's a remarkable writer and this latest offering is a unique take on some of humanity's constant truths. It is beautiful, it is engrossing and it will remain with you for a long time. Read it!
The writer's website.
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I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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