Obsessed with purity and pain, the boundaries of blame and innocence, Skin is a fascinating meditation on psoriasis, the long-lasting chronic skin condition. Sergio del Molino, a Spanish writer and journalist, slowly guides us into his world of intense physical discomfort (most treatments of psoriasis only deal with its symptoms, rather than healing its immunological causes), but combines this private hell with provocative reflections on fellow sufferers. It’s a surprise to learn that Stalin shared something with Cyndi Lauper, John Updike, Pablo Escobar and Vladimir Nabokov.
The result is by turns macabre and compelling, with Del Molino using his affliction to put himself in the shoes of his pantheon of heroes and villains, considering how close he is to living aesthetic perfection or moral perversity.
The book starts with the author talking to his son, whose death as an infant he recounted in The Violet Hours. Reading Roald Dahl, father and son disagree; the former firmly affirms ‘witches don’t exist’, while the latter demurs gently. Leaving the boy to sleep, Del Molino writes:
In the hall, before I get to the living room, I start scratching myself. My arms, my back, my hair. There are times when my scalp itches as though I’ve got witches’ eczema… I leave the door ajar and not wide open, so that [my son] isn’t tempted to get up, come through the living room and discover that witches not only exist, they are us, the parents.
He comes back to this point repeatedly. Psoriasis is much more than a skin disease; the pain it causes can lead its sufferers to intense self-reflection and fear.
On the one hand, this can result in the ‘monster’, cruel and spiteful, casting its pain onto the world.