Skin by Kerry Andrew review – atmospheric novel of loss, loneliness and yearning

The musician and author’s second novel, about a young person’s search for their vanished father, is beautifully descriptive, if occasionally clumsy

Writer and musician Kerry Andrew’s second novel, Skin, is an atmospheric creation. It follows young Matty, an introverted kid from north London, whose father disappears one day. Matty is convinced that he’s killed himself, drowned or been murdered. However, there are no answers from Matty’s brittle mother, Rosa, or from the wider community, and Matty seeks solace – and clues – in Hampstead’s swimming ponds. Throughout the novel, water functions as an ever-shifting symbol: a place to belong, a space for freedom and play, a death-lure full of secrets, a comfort and a challenge: “It began to have its own call. Water has a song, a near-silent lilt. When you got closer – tarn, pool, river, proper swimming lake – the impatience made you sweat.” Skin stirs with references to water myths, from selkies and mermaids to sirens and cursed bodies of water.

The unease of identity is another strong theme: Matty’s Italian mother and Irish father find comfort and conflict in their homelands, caught by the ties that bind and those that anchor, creating an unresolved restlessness that they pass on to Matty. Meanwhile, Matty’s explorations of sexuality, gender expression and identity glimmer suggestively through the entire novel.

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