Cold Skin
Albert Sanchez Pinol
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Cold Skin
Albert Sanchez Pinol
translated by Cheryl Leah Morgan
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
192 pages
November 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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This unique novel soon becomes a macabre tale as a young man arrives at a polar island to replace another weatherman who is nowhere to be found. This unnamed man will live in solitude on the island for the next twelve months, his job to log the intensity, direction and frequency of the winds.

With plans to enliven his mind with the writings of the classicists, the man has brought books and supplies, all delivered by a captain anxious to return to his ship and leave this desolate place. With no one there to meet him, the new weatherman is immediately assailed by his solitude. Indeed, he is utterly alone, save Gruner, the crusty resident of a nearby lighthouse.

The manís thoughts turn to his circumstances, acknowledging that this is a position for which he has volunteered: ďThe landscape we see beyond our eyes tends to be a reflection of what we hide within us.Ē By nightfall, the missing former weatherman is forgotten and he is of an entirely different mindset, contemplative endeavors replaced by the need to survive an attack that arrives with the night.

His frenzied mind can barely make sense, driven only by a desire to live, his small world peopled by the taciturn Gruner, keeper of the lighthouse-fortress, and a horde of humanoids of unknown origin who attack the lighthouse relentlessly. The men dare not be caught outside the lighthouse once the sun goes down; night after night the creatures are repelled, only to return again the following sundown.

Nature is but a passive observer in this bizarre setting, as Pinot turns the weathermanís world upside down, the pages of his calendar scribbled over and over until the twelve months of his stay are all but unrecognizable, the days slipping through his fingers in a routine of sleep and violence, until one small human gesture wipes the confusion from the young manís eyes, a moment of clarity, even hope in an otherworldly existence.

Daily battle renders him maniacal, then helpless in the face of his decisions, until out of chaos comes revelation, the extremes of the predicament yielding finally to insights that awaken his humanity, if only briefly. This is a provocative study of the cyclical nature of civilization, the evolution of violence and manís aggression in an unpredictable setting, a confusion of humanity and bestiality.

Exploring the complex inner terrain of personality and atavistic memory, Pinot fashions a moral tale out of fear bred in isolation, a man brought into direct conflict with his own motives, his natural instincts and the lengths he will go to in preserving his own life and those of his companions. In a world besieged by its distrust of otherness, Cold Skin is a timely fable, a reminder of self-limitation in the face of the extraordinary.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

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