Look at the person sitting just across from you. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a loved one, a friend, or a complete stranger.
Now look at their face. Are they happy? Are they sad? Or are they angry? Can you even tell?
How well do you actually know the people closest to you?
Have you ever seen the real person that lies just underneath what you see…?
Sounds creepy? Well, it should because the main character we follow throughout the book – Hugh – is a scary chap!
Underneath is a relatively short book – more a novella I’d say at circa 50k words – and flits between two worlds: Hugh-land and Copsville. Hugh’s world is an interesting one, as you see a lot of his life from his own confused and skewed perspective: one minute he’s happily shopping and buying garlic, the next he’s freaking out at the automated till and then forgotten where he is or why he’s there. His psycholigical switches and memory lapses quickly show the reader that Hugh is not firing on all cylinders, but as the story progresses, very scarily he also seems to be very aware of his own flaws and a-human responses (particularly in his relationship with a certain young lady).
Very early in the book I started to get an American Psycho feel, with a nice British twist – and it certainly gave you this as things developed. One of my favourite things about Michael’s writing is his ability to ‘be real’ – he gets right into the heads of his characters, making their responses and thoughts very realistic – from the mundane to the outright terrifying, he seems to be able to ‘get people’ when he writes about them.
This style continues in the sections of the book revolving around Claire and Robert – ‘Copsville’ for me. The introduction of these other characters is nicely done in a ‘sliding doors’ type moment and there are several more of these tying the plot together as the story progresses. I think Robert is my favourite character in the book: he is the bacon sandwich king! Again he and Claire are very ‘real’ and I believed in their personal motivations, thoughts and actions as they are presented in the story. The banter and interplay between them feels genuine and – even on mundane subjects – the dialogue works well, all centred in the work-world they inhabit.
Overall thoughts: I really like Michael’s writing style; it’s clear, concise, often funny and I enjoy the realisim of his characters. As an extended piece – I’ve previously read his short stories – it works well and follows similar themes and ideas to his previous work. I enjoyed Underneath and it works as a thriller, but have to say I think I prefer something with a slightly more supernatural twist, like Borger the Bunny when Michael’s writing. (See my review for Shades of Grey, also my Michael Cargill here).