Published: 15 February 2017
Reviewed: 31 December 2016
5 out of 5 stars
Copy provided by Orenda Books as part of blog tour
Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous, and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives—not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence? Based on the legend of the selkies—seals who can transform into people—evokes the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set.
My Thoughts & Review:
Where do I begin with this review…..this is quite possibly one of the most difficult reviews to write, and one that I think a thesaurus might have to be used. How many words for “good” “wonderful” and “amazing” are there? And that’s just snapshot of the words I would use to describe this book. It really is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read.
For regular readers of The Quiet Knitter, you will be wondering if the New Year has brought about a change in genre, and fear not, I still love crime thriller and police procedurals. I do however have a love for folklore and mythology, especially when it relates to Scottish tales I have known since childhood.
The legend of the Selkie is one that many Scottish children grow up hearing, but they also feature in Irish, Scandinavian and Faroese mythology too.
Selkies are creatures that live as seals in the sea, who come ashore and shed their skin to become human. In this bewitching tale there is no shortage of characters whose lives are changed forever by one of these such creatures.
Donald is a young fisherman, a social outcast of sorts who fishes alone with only his empty creels for company, but one night he witnesses something that shakes his world, and in a rash moment his actions bring about a cataclysmic change for those around him.
What follows is a flowing tale of love, friendship, acceptance and coming of age for the varying characters. Set against the ruggedly beautiful Scottish backdrop, the vivid descriptions draw the reader in, detail oozing from the pages and giving the reader a chance to feel the coastal winds whipping at their faces, taste the salt in the air, feel the uneven terrain underfoot as they clamber through the heather and over rocks. It really is hard not to become immersed in such an enchanting and beguiling setting.
Add to this the cast of characters who make up the coastal community, each one plays an important role in the lives of those around them and is accountable for something. Through the powerful and poignant story telling the characters all develop in ways I could never have imagined when I started this book. Donald in particular was a character who seemed to come full circle. His early actions evoking emotions in me that changed once I saw him evolve into the man be became. Mhairi was a character that despite being mute said volumes through her actions. The mystery surrounding her was a joy to read, and she is a character that stays with the reader long after they read the final words of Sealskin.
It’s very hard to describe this book without giving anything away, it’s rich and enthralling yet dark and foreboding at times. The rugged coastal setting matches so well with the tale, almost poetically. I found that I read this book in one sitting, and try as I might I could not read this slowly. There’s a magic in the pages that sparks something within the reader and enchants them, keeping them enthralled.
Su Bristow has done the legend of the Selkie proud with her take on the tale, and shows a wonderful talent that implores readers to pick up her books even if it might not be something they would ordinarily read. The weaving of folklore with a modern slant is poetic and hauntingly beautiful.
You can buy a copy of Sealskin here.
About the Author:
Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern. Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar), and ‘Changes’ which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Her forthcoming novel, Sealskin, is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magical realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.