There are insufficient words to thank Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books enough for a copy of Sealskin by Su Bristow in return for an honest review.
Sealskin was published by Orenda on 15th January 2017 and is available in ebook and paperback by following the publisher links here.
What happens when magic collides with reality?
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 – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking 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, Exeter Novel Prize-winner 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. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.
My Review of Sealskin
When Donald encounters the selkies dancing on the shore, lives in his small community will never be the same again.
And my life will never be the same again having read Sealskin. I’ve been sitting here trying to compose myself sufficiently to write a review and I’m struggling. I know Sealskin is based on a well known legend, but somehow Su Bristow manages to shape a narrative that is totally enthralling, fresh in its telling and devastating in its effect on the reader. I do genuinely feel bereft having finished this wonderful book. Although it’s relatively short, it actually took me quite a few days to read because I felt its intensity so acutely and had to recover after each chapter read.
Su Bristow’s prose is as silky and graceful as a seal in water. So many phrases almost stopped me in my tracks and I had to allow time to savour and contemplate how beautifully she had constructed the language. I was reminded time and again of the best of Thomas Hardy and, on occasion, of the kind of sprung rhythm of Gerard Manly Hopkins, so poetic is the writing. And yet, at the same time, it is also simple and pared back giving a balance and depth of emotion I can hardly describe. Su Bristow ensnares the reader in her narrative in an almost mystical way.
I adored the characterisation. Even the most minor characters have depth that makes them come alive instantly on the page. But Mairhi is a triumph. Though speechless, she manages to convey the full range of emotions so that she is like phosphorescence on the sea – beautiful, magical and enchanting. Donald too grows before the eyes of the reader so that it is impossible not to be heartbroken by his story. The relationship between Donald and Maihri is so intricate and intense that I almost felt like a voyeur at times but I didn’t want to tear myself away.
If the brilliance of characterisation and the magnificence of the writing were not enough, Su Bristow conveys superbly the sense of community in the fishing village. The pettinesses, the intrigues, the violence, the sense of belonging and of being an outsider – all the elements one would expect are woven into this story like the fishermen weave their nets. It really is a triumph.
The plot of Sealskin is quite simple in a way, describing the lives of the fishing village, but manages simultaneously to be alluring and captivating so that it feels as if a spell has been put on the reader to beguile them and ensnare them. I loved every word of it.
2017 has produced some fantastic books this year so far and Sealskin by Su Bristow takes its place amongst the very best. What a book. It is, quite simply, outstanding.
About Su Bristow
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 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’.