Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol

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Cold Skin Translated from the Catalan by Cheryl Leah Morgan

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 last flash of lightning illuminated my mind. I had a thousand nameless monsters against me. But they weren’t really my true enemies any more than an earthquake has a vendetta against buildings. They simply existed.

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?

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  1. nancyo says:

    I read this a couple of years back and absolutely loved it. Absolutely!

    1. Jackie says:

      Nancy, I’m so pleased you’ve already experienced this gem! Now we need to try his other ones :-)

  2. Annabel says:

    I’m so glad you loved this – amazingly, I stumbled across this lurking in my TBR pile recently, and thought ‘Why haven’t I read this before’. It’s got closer to the bedside reading pile, but I must put it (close) to the top of non-SNB books pile now you loved it so much.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, It’s amazing what you can find lurking in a TBR pile! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  3. Ifi says:

    Wow. Jackie, I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve just finished my second glass of wine, but what a great review! Your enthusiasm comes across like……
    ( I don’t know what the simile is). It’s one of those reviews that is makes me want to download the book without a second thought right now . Gosh, I’ve lived in Spain for over 15 years now and have never heard of this person!!!
    How embarrassing .This book sounds right up my alley.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ifi, It is so good to hear that my passion comes across. I just love everything about this strange book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :-)

  4. Col says:

    I loved your review for two reasons. Firstly I laughed at the fact that you had ‘only’ read two books about humanoid amphibians – says it all about the joy of books really! Secondly am doing a Spanish Lit Challenge this year so while I am not sure if giant toads are really my thing(!!) I’ve added Cold Skin to my list for this year!!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Col, Humanoid amphibians are my new favourite thing!!! Fiction is amazing – I love the way bizarre things like this can be made to sound plausible.

      This book doesn’t have any Spanish atmosphere in it – it reads just like an original English text, but if you’re not looking for a book with Spanish culture then this is a good choice for the Spanish Lit Challenge. It’s the perfect way to introduce a more obscure author to the blogging world.


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