Book review – Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary

Someone Else's Skin by Sarah HilaryThere’s something thrilling about dipping into a debut novel, but rarely is the enthusiasm matched by such unerring skill as this.

In Sarah Hilary’s confident hands we’re securely led through a tale woven from multiple viewpoints and with multiple crimes – a juggling act she adeptly controls from intriguing epilogue of Someone Else’s Skin to the satisfying closing sentence. It’s an impressive feat, but one achieved thanks to Hilary’s obvious respect for all the characters she creates, as well as the real life situations she draws inspiration from.

Exploring the sorry and sordid world of women’s refuges, the story swoops us past potential clichés into original, empathetic storylines and elegant, often poetic prose that stands out as something special in this genre. She describes a Secure Unit as “steel and glass, reflective surfaces shivering in the weak sunshine” and a woman’s memory of her childhood circumcision is told in colours: “The blanket was green and gold. Dark patches lay on it, like shadows (…) Her blood was a new shadow, red.”

It takes courage to tackle the subjects Hilary delves into – domestic atrocities far more complex than murder. She introduces us to characters so real that if they were to accost you in a pub, begin pouring out their sorry tales, you might want to run. But Hilary makes us stay, listen, take in all the different and conflicting levels of their damage and betrayal, and gradually come to understand that even the worst of her villains began as a victim – no one is just one thing, from surface to core. Continue reading