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Lee Martin – Break The Skin

Book Cover

Anything for you.

Publisher: Broadway (Random House)
Pages: 270
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-307-71676-7
First Published: 2011
Date Reviewed: 3rd December 2012
Rating: 4/5

Laney tells her story of why she was arrested for a crime, including all the heartache and tears that led to the moment a trigger was pulled. Miss Baby also tells her story, a tale laced with a similar longing for love but of a differing nature. Both stories, initially separate, join together as gaps in one story are filled by the other and the women find themselves in like situations.

Break The Skin rests quite firmly in “literary fiction” whilst simultaneously keeping both feet in a blend of thriller and crime. At once housing aspects of loneliness and love akin to a YA book, the story touches on issues that place it in an older age range. To say that the novel would appeal to many would be an understatement.

It ought to be noted that the thriller element is quite minor. There is a crime, and a good lead up to it, but the reveal isn’t, perhaps, as surprising or sudden as would generally be expected in a book with such a structure. However this is somewhat negated by the general category as well as the locations and characters.

Because it can’t be said that Martin’s emphasis on personality rather than crime was a bad one, indeed the way the author weaves the two tales together whilst ultimately providing two separate stories is rather compelling. The focus on a need to be loved at all costs puts two characters that are otherwise very different in the same box, literally at times, and keeps the threads tied even when they seem loose. Martin’s characters, especially Laney, are at the extreme ends of neediness, but they surely demonstrate a reality that isn’t given enough notice in our world. Perhaps the saddest part is that both situations could have been avoided, in particular Laney’s, if things were just that little bit different.

Thus, neediness being prominent, the possibilities for manipulation and the way a person in need can do the wrong thing, or anything that isn’t appreciated either way, are centre stage. What’s interesting is how Martin includes the manipulation – it’s subtle, sometimes barely apparent, but there nevertheless. And the secondary characters, such as parents, show how easy it is for others not to notice everything that is happening, to only see part of the story, and thus to make the situation worse. And in Miss Baby’s case, one manipulates another, letting them think the other is manipulating them.

The writing is generally good, although sometimes a bit “clunky”. However there are occasions where accents or dialects are used which can help a reader unfamiliar with the setting, and cultural references tend to be explained well.

The differences in time between the two narratives are incredibly interesting, not just for the changes in setting but for the periods themselves. Whereas Laney’s story, the more informed story, takes place over a number of months, Miss Baby’s is after the event and shows the affects of that event on one of the characters. In a way it could be wondered how relevant Miss Baby is besides being akin to Laney in status, because Miss Baby doesn’t really play much of a part to her Donnie’s story, but it allows Martin to demonstrate feelings, and how people don’t always realise how another feels for them.

Witchcraft makes a play for the reasoning behind the crime, and its inclusion is interesting. Martin doesn’t take a side; he shows how the occult could have an effect, whether real or as a consequence of belief, as well as showing how it might not have played a part at all. He allows space for suggesting it’s a bad thing that affects lives, and space for suggesting it doesn’t work. His handling is objective and includes all sorts of perceptions.

Break The Skin deals with people being very down on their luck, as well as those who believe they are but are in fact not. It shows how a person can easily slide from ambition and self-worth to thinking they are nothing, and highlights the differences in worlds that can allow that to escalate. Its characters are not particularly special, and it’s for that reason the premise and themes work, because they are so normal. Even the fact that there is nothing to recommend them works in Martin’s favour.

In the case of this book, extra analysis may prove indispensable, due to the way that the book can, on the surface, appear dull. Because there is a lot to Break The Skin, and in a way the title is apt far more than in view of the narrative. Martin’s thoughts are there, but he wants you to really think about it, instead of handing it to you on a plate and making it easier to read and forget. Once you break the spell, you’ll see it all.

I received this book for review from Crown Publishers.

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Rebecca @ Love at First Book

December 19, 2012, 3:16 am

I’m glad that you talked about how Martin discussed witchcraft as an option, and also an alternative that is more realistic. I personally dislike when ghosts and witchcraft is in novels, unless it can also be explained in a “normal” way, and the reader can decide what to believe.

Laurie C

December 19, 2012, 2:48 pm

I’ve read The Bright Forever by Lee Martin. This one sounds like it might be a new book group favorite! I would never have guessed from the cover what the book is actually like, so thanks for the review!

Literary Feline

December 19, 2012, 6:03 pm

I am not familiar with this author or book, but it does sound intriguing. My first thought was what a great book group book this would be! It sounds like it has many elements that would lend itself for discussion.

I especially like how you describe the characters as being “not particularly special”. It could be any one of us then.


December 19, 2012, 9:24 pm

Rebecca: Yes, unless it’s a pure fantasy novel it can be quite off-putting if paranormal activity and the like isn’t explained. Because whilst things can be believable, because we’ve no definite answer about them, it’s good to delve into it. And it helps explain it anyway, which is always good for adding to knowledge.

Laurie: Me either – I was thinking it would be a Scandinavian thriller until I started reading it, the cover and especially the colour of it made me think of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. You saying book group, yes, I think you’re right. It would make a good discussion. Have you reviewed The Bright Forever? I’d be interested in reading your thoughts so if you see some site searching in your stats that’s likely me!

Literary Feline: Really interesting, you and Laurie talking about it being a good book group read, I hadn’t thought of it, but it’s such a good idea! Yes, you’ve got it exactly, it could be any one of us and I think that’s what makes it so poignant. And of course in relation to that you feel sorry for the characters etc, but then you realise just how widespread their issues are. It just happened to be them.



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