You Beneath Your Skin
Content warning: this book contains some potentially disturbing themes, including sexual violence, drug abuse and child prostitution.
You Beneath Your Skin is a book about murder, corruption and deception. It follows a crime spree that is sweeping across New Delhi as slum women are increasingly being found stuffed in bin bags, with their faces and bodies disfigured by acid. The novel follows the life of Indian-American mother and psychiatrist, Anjali Morgan, and her family who, in their efforts to solve these crimes, quickly become wrapped up at the centre of it. Along the way, long-kept family secrets are brought to light and difficult decisions must be made, leaving each character to consider what lengths they would go to to protect their loved ones.
My favourite part of the text was definitely in its characterisation. Each character, for better or worse, was so well thought through and their stories certainly believable, if not relatable. I particularly resonated with Maya, the career driven, headstrong feminist committed to protecting her family. Since I too have vitiligo, I saw myself in Maya’s journey of accepting her skin condition while she learns to dispel the notion that her patches are shameful or unattractive. I was very impressed by how the author addressed this particular issue, as it is something rarely discussed in either fiction or within South Asian communities, of which the condition largely dominates. I also felt represented in the mixed race character of Anjali who, while noting that she was picked on as a child growing up in America, also sometimes feels like an outsider in New Delhi through her fair skin and broken Hindi. Biswas has done a wonderful job in providing a voice for marginalised members of society. Despite each character proving to be flawed in their own way, I was hugely invested in every single one of them.
In a similar vein, I also think it was incredibly admirable that Biswas has chosen to address issues including poverty, drug abuse, rape culture, political corruption and acid attacks that are all too prevalent in Indian society today. This tied in extremely well with the plot of the story which addressed a systemic patriarchy as well as low-level misogyny within the home and police force. Biswas presents an unsentimental view of these issues in her depiction of a world that allows these men to escape justice for their crimes, either through their status or wealth. In this sense, this book proved to be much more than a crime thriller, it was a snapshot in India’s political and social history. While optimistic for the women of the future, Biswas reminds us of the sacrifices these women have had to make in our present.
With regards to the plot, it followed the archetypal template of crime fiction - full of surprises and intrigue. I absolutely love crime fiction and this book was no exception, with enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes the whole way through. It was very successful in how it approached the climax of the novel and its ‘whodunnit’ aspect. Unlike other crime novels I’ve read I didn’t think the plot was ever too rushed. The writing was evocative, easily digestible and made for a real binge-worthy book. My one criticism, however, is that I do feel at times things were over-explained. While I understand this was to ensure the reader is always on the same page as what the author intended, as a reader of crime fiction I love to be kept guessing so that I can solve at least part of the crime on my own.
Overall I was really impressed by this compelling debut and can’t wait to read more from Biswas in the future. 9/10.
I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All author proceeds for this book will go to @projectwhydelhi and @stopacidattacks. A link to purchase a copy can be found here: mybook.to/YouBeneathYourSkin
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