Skin Deep by Liz Nugent
Opening sentence: “I wondered when rigor mortis would set in, or if it already had.”
In a word, this book left me feeling… unsettled. Partly due to the sinister ending, but also the lead character, Delia Russell, (one of her names, she has a few aliases) is a hard woman to like. Saying that, we are not meant to like her. A mixture of an unusual childhood on a small, isolated island off the west coast of Ireland, her father’s strange obsession with her and a tragic event that sees her end up in an orphanage means that she has distinct sociopathic tendencies and a ruthless survival instinct. She is focused on moving up in the world; she marries a rich man, trades her Irish accent in for (what she deems to be a more desirable) cut-glass English one and takes a liking to luxurious living in the South of France. This is where she ends up settling and where (as you can see from the opening sentence) she ends up in possession of a dead body. Who this body is and what happened is revealed much later in the book, after we discover Delia’s past. There’s a line that neatly sums up both Delia’s story and the sub-plots: ‘Layer upon layer of mistrust was rising to the surface’ – what Skin Deep does well is develop tension at an intriguing pace and hit perfectly on the small-town mentality that everyone has a secret they’d maybe rather remained hidden.
This book is told in the first person by Delia, but every so often we get the point of view of another character – her husband, her nanny – however, I found these segues a bit pointless, as they didn’t add anything to story, just went over what we already knew. What I did like though, was how each major plot-shift was prefixed with an Irish myth relating back to Inishcrann (the small island Delia is originally from) and takes the form of a parable for the next chapter in Delia’s life. This added an extra element to the read and works to set it apart from other thrillers.
So, yes, Skin Deep certainly had me turning the pages to find out what happens next, but I just couldn’t get on board with Delia and in a character-led read like this, that was an issue for me. Rather than finding her fascinating, I just didn’t like her. She was far too selfish and self-obsessed without having the spark of charm that lets characters get away with this kind of behaviour. Ultimately, I felt a bit sorry for her, she ended up with a vacuous existence, never investing emotionally in anybody or anything, so in return, I couldn’t invest in her.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Published 5th April 2018.