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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Cold Skin

Albert Sánchez Piñol

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To purchase Cold Skin

Title: Cold Skin
Author: Albert Sánchez Piñol
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Catalan
Availability: Cold Skin - US
Cold Skin - UK
Cold Skin - Canada
Cold Skin - India
La peau froide - France
Im Rausch der Stille - Deutschland
La pelle fredda - Italia
La piel fría - España (Español)
La pell freda - España (Catalán)
  • Catalan title: La pell freda
  • Translated by Cheryl Leah Morgan
  • In his review in The Independent (13/3/2006) Michael Eaude notes that "some 15 early pages explaining the narrator's background as an IRA volunteer in the 1920s have been left out.".
  • Cold Skin was made into a movie in 2017, directed by Xavier Gens and starring Ray Stevenson

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Our Assessment:

B : creepy and fairly effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A 28/10/2005 Gilbert Cruz
FAZ . 29/12/2005 Florian Borchmeyer
The Independent . 13/3/2006 Michael Eaude
Independent on Sunday A 9/4/2006 Laurence Phelan
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 10/5/2006 Uwe Stolzmann
The NY Sun . 9/11/2005 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/12/2005 Marcel Theroux
The Observer . 23/4/2006 Tom Williams
San Francisco Chronicle . 27/11/2005 Alan Cheuse
The Spectator . 15/7/2006 Simon Baker
Sunday Telegraph . 26/2/2006 Andrew McKie
The Times . 25/2/2006 Toby Litt
TLS . 8/12/2006 Matthew Tree
Die Welt . 3/9/2005 Stefanie Bolzen
Die Zeit . 13/10/2005 Merten Worthmann

  Review Consensus:

  Most generally impressed -- good Lovecraft, or Lovecraft-imitation

  From the Reviews:
  • "(B)oth a tightly wound thriller and a fantastical horror novel." - Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Indes scheint Sánchez Piñol entschlossen, all das, was etwa bei Lem durch die poetische Kraft der Worte und der Bilder getragen wird, als explizite Thesen zu formulieren -- sehr zum Nachteil seines Romans." - Florian Borchmeyer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This is an adolescent boys' adventure story, mixing existential angst, sexual fantasy and military action. The resourceful hero digs ditches, fires rifles and uses dynamite against the hordes, described variously as amphibians, fish, reptiles or near-humans. The angst is implicit in the bleakness of the island and, in case we missed it, is underlined by portentous comments" - Michael Eaude, The Independent

  • "Cold Skin is a superbly controlled and creepy little allegorical novel, set on a strangely verdant outcrop of rock somewhere on the edge of the Antarctic circle. (...) With a plot pared down to these extreme basics, and no small amount of gore, Cold Skin seems to resemble a literary equivalent of the low-budget early horror movies of George Romero and Sam Raimi. But its narrator has a lofty, turn-of-the-century turn of phrase, a distinct philosophical bent." - Laurence Phelan, Independent on Sunday

  • "Erschöpft kehrt der Leser zurück von der Reise an die Grenzen der menschlichen Existenz, und nun fragt er sich, was von der kunstvollen Inszenierung des Katalanen, von diesem kammerspielartigen Albtraum zu halten sei. Die Komposition ? Ist klar, streng, zielgerichtet. Die Sprache ? Knapp und elegant." - Uwe Stolzmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Mr. Pinol's darkly compelling book is recommended to all lovers of uncanny literature, although several of its sentences are more than uncanny" - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "Piñol's prose, in Cheryl Leah Morgan's translation from the Catalan, supports the book's gothic conceit with many conscious archaisms, and he sometimes lays it on a bit thick (.....) You feel that neither the narrator, nor the author behind him, are quite sure how to bring things to a close. The ending fizzles out. You finally sympathize with the monsters, who also find frustratingly little to get their teeth into." - Marcel Theroux, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Playfully conscious of its B-movie plot, Cold Skin avoids the associated pitfalls. The narrator tells his story with detachment as he documents his experiences with the sea fiends. Rather like Lord of the Flies, an archetypal plot is an excuse for an extended meditation on man's propensity for violence." - Tom Williams, The Observer

  • "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. But if weird tales are now and then something to your liking, this novel will run you hot and cold." - Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The novel borrows from so many popular genres -- horror, thriller, B-movie -- and yet ultimately transcends them all and is classifiable only as an excellent book." - Simon Baker, The Spectator

  • "The book is an amazingly quick read; which need be no bad thing. Parts of it reminded me of King's Bachman books, in its straightforward set-up and rapid development. There are some clunky moments in the prose, but that may be due to the translation. (...) If you like odd, creepy pulp fiction, you may like Cold Skin, or even think there is more to it than that. Either way, it won't take much of your time to find out." - Andrew McKie, Sunday Telegraph

  • "The elements could hardly be simpler: two men, one castle (the lighthouse), many wild monsters, one tame monster. But, employing these limitations, Sánchez Piñol creates a struggle for survival that is, at the same time, a meditation on humanity. This isn’t horror for horror’s sake. It approaches some kind of archetype -- of isolation, of threat, of melancholy, of the desire for companionship." - Toby Litt, The Times

  • "Cold Skin would appear to be an example of that rare thing: an original story which emerged, immaculately and unexpectedly, from its author's subconscious." - Matthew Tree, Times Literary Supplement

  • "(W)eil Sanchez Piñol ein effektiver Erzähler mit einer geschickten Kurventechnik ist, saust der Leser ziemlich atemlos dem Ende entgegen und fühlt sich nach dessen Erreichen gewissermaßen glücklich durchgerüttelt." - Merten Worthmann, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Cold Skin is set on a remote island near Antarctica inbetween the World Wars. The narrator has taken a position as a weather official on the island, and begins his story with his trip to and arrival on this desolate place. He's not entirely alone -- there's a lighthouse on the island, and a keeper, Gruner -- but it's probably not a good sign that the man who held the weather official post for the past year is nowhere to be found. (And Gruner also doesn't look too great on their arrival.)
       The isolation of the island is extreme: as Gruner tells the new weather official, it's far off the shipping lanes and they shouldn't expect anyone for a year, until the replacement weather official arrives. The isolation is, however, the least of their problems. As the narrator soon discovers:

     I had been meditating on my reasons for coming to this island. I had been seeking peace in nothingness. And in place of silence I have found a monster-plagued inferno.
       Oh, yes: every night the monsters come out. Gruner calls them toads, but they're aggressive wild beasts from the sea and every night the humans face a pitched battle against the invaders. They're not all that different from humans, either -- despite cold skin and living in the sea. In fact, Gruner has made one his pet cum sex-slave. But the two sides can't get along, and there's a massacre almost each night -- and each day a preparation for the night to come.
       Obviously, the narrator and Gruner are facing their own demons -- and not facing them well. Sánchez Piñol offers a few variations on the conflict, as the two humans try mass extermination on the one hand, while at another point the narrator actually befriends some child-monsters -- and even begins to think it's possible to make peace. But in the end, it always comes to a violent confrontation.
       Sánchez Piñol does a lot of this creepy stuff very well, and manages to sustain the suspense almost throughout, despite the unlikeliness of some of what transpires (but then, as the narrator admits: "Our life in the lighthouse is far-fetched.") The book eventually comes fairly nicely full-circle -- but it's not entirely neatly resolved.
       Part of the problem may be with the English translation, which apparently simply cut the opening of the book, in which the narrator describes the IRA past he is trying to flee. Without the backstory, the English version remains even more abstract, and it's unclear that that works to best purpose.
       A dark and unsettling tale, with a bit too many unbelievable elements, Cold Skin is a solid read for those who enjoy this sort of creepy story.

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Cold Skin: Reviews: Cold Skin - the movie: Other books by Albert Sánchez Piñol under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Catalan author Albert Sánchez Piñol was born in 1965.

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© 2006-2018 the complete review

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