Words I’m Loving: Under the Skin

I’m starting to realize that some people write in their books. It’s difficult for me to comprehend: I’ve always left the pages of my books pristine, other than the occasional food stain. I’m not sure why I never wrote in books. Perhaps it’s because I used to always get my books out from the library. Perhaps I was always so engrossed in books I never thought of writing in them. Perhaps it’s my hatred of highlighting. But I think it is important to keep track of the parts of the book that you love, so perhaps I’ll do that today and share it with you.

I just finished Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Here is one of my favorite passages in this book (it is spoiler heavy):

He smoothed the soil and picked fragments of scattered straw out of it. Then he gathered a handful of long straws together, twisted and folded them to make a stiff wand, and began to draw in the dirt.

‘Look!’ Amlis urged.

Isserley watched, disturbed, as the vodsel scrawled a five-letter word with great deliberation, even going to the trouble of fashioning each letter upside down, so that it would appear right-way-up for those on the other side of the mesh.

‘No-one told me they had a language,’ marvelled Amlis, too impressed, it seemed, to be angry. ‘My father always describes them as vegetables on legs.’

‘It depends on what you classify as language, I guess,’ said Isserley dismissively. The vodsel had slumped behind his handiwork, head bowed in submission, eyes wet and gleaming.

‘But what does it mean?’ persisted Amlis.

Isserley considered the message, which was M E R C Y. It was a word she’d rarely encountered in her reading, and never on television. For an instant she racked her brains for a translation, then realized that, by sheer chance, the word was untranslatable into her own tongue; it was a concept that just didn’t exist.

I can’t imagine what a culture that doesn’t have the word for mercy would be like. Can you?