Book Review: The Skin Palace by Jack O’Connell

Enter the world of pornography as you follow the protagonist in Jack O’Connell’s new novel, The Skin Palace.

Sylvia Krafft is one of those people with very little in life. She never knew her father and when her mother died, she became an orphan and succumbed to depression. She goes through life in auto mode like everyone else, trying to make it work with her big time lawyer boyfriend, Perry, trudging along to her nothing of a job as a photo chick in one of those obsolete photo booths.

Although sort of contented with her life, Sylvia finds peace and happiness in the makeshift dark room in the basement of her apartment building. It is her sanctuary. A place where she is happy to stay, with her negatives and photo processing equipment, forever.

But her life in this fictional city of Quinsigamond takes a strange turn when she buys an antique camera from a shop which disappears the day after. She develops the film inside the camera and is fascinated, even a bit obsessed, by the images she discovers.

In her quest to find out the photographer, Sylvia is thrust into a world she is not familiar with, including meeting the proprietor, Hugo Schick, of Herzog’s Erotic Palace as well as its main actress who somehow attaches herself to Sylvia.

Sylvia’s hunt leads her to the phantom photographer Terrence Propp, who, according to his fanatics, is either dead, alive or a fraud. No one has seen him and those who claimed to know him now say otherwise.

Along the way, Sylvia finds herself questioning the life she is living. Is Perry worth the effort? Is she really going to be a photo booth chick all her life? What is she going to do with her passion for photography?

Also in the same city is Jakob Kinsky, a film buff who happens to be the heir of Hermann Kinsky and his mob empire. He isn’t interested about taking over. He has no desire to expand his father’s ‘business’. He only wants to make movies. But his cousin Felix wants everything he doesn’t, and he’s plotting to get rid of Jakob to take over his throne.

The Skin Palace is not my usual read. There are four other books in the same world of Quinsigamond and I’ve never read any of them. It was a very slow burn for me – someone who is used to and wants quick action from the start. But there were moments of gasps in the book and parts that I re-read because they were delicious.

O’Connell described his ghetto world vividly, down to the religious zealot character and the over-the-top activist. My curiosity with Sylvia’s and Jakob’s journey kept me going and in the end I was satisfied with how one of them ended.


Kristyn M. Levis is a freelance writer, author and photographer based in Sydney. She is currently the managing editor of Her Collective. Her first novel is set to be published this year.

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