Mr F's nocturnal insecurities begin to bleed into his usually disciplined working life. When his employer brings in his nephew and instructs Mr F to take him on as an apprentice in the cutting room, he finds somebody on which he can place all of his fear and blame for the dream. The nephew is young, handsome, cocky and charming - everything Mr F is not. As the narrative takes an unexpected turn, each man is cast in their respective role of Beauty and the Beast. The apprenticeship unfolds almost like a love affair, as each piece of raw, wild skin is transformed into a thing of luxury, to be placed upon the shoulders of a wife or mistress in return for one favour or another.
For the first two hundred pages, I had no idea where this story was going, or where it possibly could go. So little actually seems to happen, and yet at the book's end, everything has changed. Skin Lane is not a fairy tale, nor is it a love story. It is simply Mr F's story: one of loneliness and desire, although it is unlikely that such an insular, compulsive character would even recognise these words as pertaining to him.
You might not think that a novel set against the fur trade of the 1960s would be the most engaging of stories, but I was rapt throughout. Bartlett's writing had me cringing with discomfort on one page, then would bring a sting to my eyes in the next. Its closing chapters are by far the strongest, as all of the latent passion of the last three hundred pages is finally addressed, resolving everything and nothing.