I was so thrilled when Laura Wilkinson asked me to launch her Skin Deep blog tour last month – and quite devastated when I had to bow out because of my mother’s illness. I’m an immense fan of her writing – highly original, each book totally different from the one before, but every one the most compelling read. You can read my review of the wonderful Redemption Song here, together with a lovely interview with the author: you’ll find my review of another book that blew me away, The Family Line, here. So did Skin Deep have the same impact? Oh, of course it did!
Art student and former model Diana has always been admired for her beauty, but what use are good looks when you want to shine for your talent? Insecure and desperate for inspiration, Diana needs a muse.
Facially disfigured four-year-old Cal lives a life largely hidden from the world. But he was born to be looked at and he needs love too. A chance encounter changes everything and Cal becomes Diana’s muse. But as Diana’s reputation develops and Cal grows up, their relationship implodes.
Both struggle to be accepted for what lies within.
Is it possible to find acceptance in a society where what’s on the outside counts for so much?
Those of you who may have got the impression that I give every book I read five stars and a glowing review might be surprised to know that some subjects are a bit of a red flag for me, sometimes enough to stop me reading. I’m really not a fan of the seedy, seamy side of life – so it’s an immense tribute to Laura Wilkinson’s writing that I wasn’t in the least put off by her vivid portrayal of 1980s Hulme in Manchester in the early part of this book (a setting I knew well, having worked there around that time).
I watched with total fascination the developing relationship between the two damaged protagonists, weighing up the rights and wrongs of the situation as Diana builds her artistic reputation with facially disfigured Cal as her muse. I say “watched”, but this is actually a book that it’s difficult to stand back from – the story consumed me as I read, and when I wasn’t reading I was unable to stop thinking about it. Surely Diana had learned about the evils of exploitation at the hands of her mother? And there were times when she plainly had – when Cal walked away from her latest idea, her impulse and inability to shout “Who needs the lousy project anyway, all I need is you” broke my heart. There were other points in the story that I found desperately moving too – the mirror bought by Diana as a gift for Cal but never given, Cal’s reflection in adulthood that he may be as ugly beneath the skin as above…
There are so many themes to this book that my mind was whirling. There’s the obvious one of obsession with appearance and perfection, the fine line between beauty and ugliness, the links between appearance and acceptance, the blurred lines between rescuing someone and using them. The story is acutely uncomfortable to read at times, but wonderfully written – the structure, with Diana and the older Cal as narrators, really works, and their reflections and inner thoughts really play on your mind. I liked the insights into the art world – Diana’s creations were vividly real – and the complex relationships in the book (between the main characters, and with some of the subsidiary ones like Linda, Alan and Diana’s horrendous mother) were compelling to follow. And as for the book’s ending – it was just perfect.
There are books you close, write a review, then move on to the next. It’s a while since I read this book, but the characters remain as etched in my heart and mind as the day I read it, the images quite unforgettable. One very special book…
My thanks to author Laura Wilkinson and Accent Press for my advance reading copy. I’m so sorry the review has taken me so long to write.
About the author
Liverpool born, Laura is a taff at heart. She has published six novels for adults (two under a pseudonym) and numerous short stories, some of which have made the short lists of international competitions. Public Battles, Private Wars, was a Welsh Books Council Book of the month; Redemption Song was a Kindle top twenty. The Family Line is a family drama set in the near future, looking at identity and parenting. Her latest is Skin Deep.
Alongside writing, Laura works as an editor & mentor for literary consultancies and runs workshops on aspects of craft. She’s spoken at festivals and events nationwide, including the Frome Festival, Gladfest, University of Kingston, The Women’s Library and Museum in Docklands. She lives in Brighton with her husband and sons.