Five words from the blurb: Antarctic, man, castaway, deranged, sea
I hadn’t heard of this book, but when I spotted it in a charity shop with an endorsement from David Mitchell on the cover I snapped it up. I’ve had amazing success with Mitchell’s recommendations and this didn’t disappoint either. Cold Skin is a beautifully creepy read, with a gripping plot that raises interesting questions about humanity.
Cold Skin begins with a young man taking up the position of weather observer on an island in the Antarctic Circle. He is left in this desolate environment for a year, with only the lighthouse keeper for company. This blurb led me to believe I’d be reading a quiet book about freezing temperatures and loneliness so I was shocked to discover that it is really a battle for survival involving giant humanoid toads!
The characterisation was fantastic. The interaction between the unnamed weather man and the lighthouse keeper was beautifully observed and I loved the way their differing personalities clashed. It’s unusual for the two central characters to hate each other so much and I found this a refreshing change from everything else I’ve read recently.
It had many similarities with Blindness by José Saramago, but I found Cold Skin easier to stomach. Giant toads don’t exist so they don’t give me nightmares; instead they made me think about fear and the instinctive behaviour it creates. It also cleverly showed Man’s impact on the environment, questioning our desire to control any elements of nature we don’t like:
The pacing of the book was perfect. It wasn’t a thriller-like roller-coaster of emotion, but the tension slowly mounted and clever concepts were added throughout. The ending was also fantastic. I won’t spoil it, but I can’t think of many other books that end so perfectly.
This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.
Cold Skin is a great companion read for War with the Newts by Karel Capek. I’ve only read two books containing humanoid amphibians and have loved them both. Can you recommend any others?