three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-ColdSkinAfter World War I, an unnamed European narrator arrives on a remote Antarctic island to spend a year monitoring weather conditions. He finds a very strange situation indeed. The man he’s come to replace has disappeared, and when night falls, devilish sea-creatures slink from the water to battle the islands’ inhabitants—the narrator and a deranged recluse named Gruner. Though Gruner wages war against the monsters, too, he has taken in as sexual bedfellow a submissive toad-like creature, Aneris. When the narrator furtively takes Aneris as a sexual partner as well, he starts to question the purpose and nature of love, survival, and humanity.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 192 pages. $20. ISBN: 0374182396

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Your skin will be downright clammy once you read Cold Skin. … The novel feels Kafkaesque at first." Anne Morris

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"I don’t know of a horror story this powerfully composed since Poe’s long-ago ‘Narrative of A. Gordon Pym.’ It’s certainly not for everyone, horror never is, especially horror with such an odd sexual element. In this regard, the novel reads like Lovecraft with testosterone." Alan Cheuse

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Not even reaching 200 pages, Piñol’s debut is short on description but long on self-reflection, action and intrigue… Piñol tries to humanize [Aneris] while at the same time stripping away her ability to act as anything other than a puppet for the men’s whims." Adam Schragin

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"As so often in gothic writing, the characters are emotionally overwrought, given to smashing things, punching themselves in the head to bring themselves to their senses, and having hair that goes gray overnight. … You feel that neither the narrator, nor the author behind him, are quite sure how to bring things to a close." Marcel Teroux

Critical Summary

A best-seller translated from Catalan, Cold Skin features gothic characters, plots, and writing, all to horrific, sometimes comic, effect. Behind the narrator’s self-reflections and actions—from night battles to bestiality—Piñol, an anthropologist, asks big questions about men and monsters, power and submission, sanity and madness. The horror of the book’s opening transforms into something more bizarre, more unnameable, as the characters breach the human-animal boundary. It’s a wholly original premise, but not without faults: some of the plotting seems mechanical; Aneris comes across as a confused stereotype; and the ending leaves loose threads. But the questions that seem so simple will keep haunting.