A deeply personal meditation on death and the meaning of life
First published in 1925, "Skin For Skin" is a deeply personal account of Llewelyn Powys' encounter with tuberculosis, which he contracted in 1909 at the age of twenty-five. In those days, prior to the discovery of antibiotics, TB - or consumption as it was then called - was a leading cause of death; for Powys, the bubbling sensation in his lungs and the blood in his mouth amounted to a sentence of death. In the pages of this uncompromising memoir we accompany him to a Swiss sanitarium to recover his health, then back to the south of England for a period of convalescence, hoping that the dreadful symptoms do not return.
Hoping - but not praying. For Powys, an atheist, there is no comfort in a belief in God and an immortal soul, and so he finds himself staring into the abyss. The experience, as so much else in the book, is recounted in powerfully vivid, lyrical prose: "I would wake in the small hours of the morning swaddled in fear. With scared eyes I would peer into the darkness of my room, and into the unknown days before me, and come to realize, during those tense, suspended moments, how completely unattended, how intolerably alone we are, each one of us, like cattle herded into a merciless stockyard, to be driven into the shambles, separately, when our turn comes."
And yet, despite the soulless darkness, there is reason for existence. As we see in "Skin For Skin," Powys finds it in enjoying life to the fullest, in feasting upon it while he has it, in squeezing the last drop of joy from each day. As the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" concluded in its review of the book in 1925, "Rugged, brutal and yet, in spots, tender, "Skin For Skin" makes life worth living after all."