Cold Skin

Written by Albert Sánchez Piñol
Review by Mary Sharratt

Just after the Great War, a man arrives at a remote, sub-Antarctic island where he is to be a weather observer. He finds no sign of his predecessor, but only meets Gruner, a deranged castaway inhabiting the lighthouse. Although the small island appears to be the site of an unsolved crime, the unnamed protagonist blithely tells the ship’s captain to leave him there. On the first night, his cottage is stormed by humanoid creatures who emerge from the sea. He barely survives their siege. The next morning he begs Gruner for asylum in the fortress-like lighthouse, but Gruner refuses—until the protagonist kidnaps Gruner’s female humanoid ‘mascot’ and holds her captive. Thus the two men begin their uneasy truce, banding together to fight the monsters’ onslaught and battling each other over copulation rights with the ‘mascot.’ Slowly the protagonist begins to see the human in the cold-skinned enemy and the monsters become noble savages in his eye. Meanwhile Gruner plots the creatures’ destruction.

In the hands of someone like Stephen King, this might have been an entertaining, if far-fetched, caper. However, this is meant to be literary fiction, and it takes itself far too seriously. The result is, in turns, clichéd, nauseating, and unintentionally hilarious. A lurid, overwritten cocktail of rape, zoophilia, gore, and macho posturing.