Cold Skin

Cold SkinCold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An alternately brilliant and frustrating novel, COLD SKIN reads like a fever dream. Piñol has lots to say about war, colonialism, the cyclical nature of history, and man’s inhumanity to man (and woman) in this allegory of a mostly deserted island being attacked nightly by strangely humanoid sea creatures. I enjoyed the novel very much, but I found myself stymied at times by two important elements. First, the prose is often too spare for its own good, which may or may not be a translation issue. Piñol is an excellent writer, frequently utilizing delightful or deeply profound turns of phrase. However, there are also times when I felt the thinness of the prose left certain important themes, actions, and motivations less deeply explored than I would have liked. The second is that our protagonist, a nameless first-person narrator, is no better than the antagonist, the madman Gruner with whom he is trapped on the island. It left me with little to root for other than the sea creatures themselves, which may have been Piñol’s point. I felt this way until the novel’s absolutely perfect ending, which to my surprise relies on this very moral disconnect to work so perfectly. In the end, COLD SKIN is one of those novels that stays with you and keeps you thinking about it for days afterward. It’s extremely well written, despite the spareness of the prose, and worthy of its praise from authors like David Mitchell and Yann Martel. Highly recommended to anyone interested.

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