Wednesday 8 February 2017

Sealskin by Su Bristow

Published by Orenda Books on February 15, 2017

Sealskin is a special story inspired by selkie legend, constructed with haunting layers of love and forgiveness and beautiful storytelling that is both intriguing and absolutely enthralling. I was fascinated by this book from page one and the story inside is one I haven’t stopped thinking about since. Sealskin sums up many of the reasons why Orenda Books are such a favourite of mine, with brave writing, lingering prose and a simply unforgettable story inside.

As mentioned, Sealskin is based on the legend of the selkies. At the beginning of the book, Donald witnesses a seal who sheds her skin on the beach. In keeping with the legend, a seal shedding their skin transforms them into human form, and it is here that fisherman Donald makes a life-changing mistake as he brings Mairhi home, with no return. Though I was drawn into this book straight away, I didn’t instantly connect with what I was reading and it took a few chapters before I could fully take in what I was reading. By then, though, the magical and spellbinding prowess of the book had hooked me and I found it impossible to do anything else with my day until I had finished reading every page.

Sealskin is really an extraordinary novel difficult to do justice in a review. Saying it’s a fascinating story, which it is, again doesn’t really express what I actually felt about this book. It’s utterly transfixing and mesmerising. The tone, the language, the atmospheric feel to the story – it all contributed to a reading experience like no other. I just couldn’t get this book off my mind and I still can’t now. There’s real power and emotion delivered with the author’s words that truly do the legend justice.

I had mixed feelings about Donald’s character and his actions throughout the book. I could sense his loneliness early on but his choices were sometimes beyond me. As the story grows, however, and as the unique bond between him and Mairhi becomes a marriage, I felt like I grew to like him more, and know him a bit better. A big part of Sealskin is its community. Everything is close-knit and whilst there are snide remarks and judgments when certain characters meet Mairhi for the first time, come the end of the book the lives of everyone have been transformed in ways that appear unimaginable early on. It was Mairhi who stole the show in Sealskin though. Whilst she does not speak, her actions showed so much character. I adored her. I found her engaging and mysterious and an absolutely spectacular character.

Sealskin is a book that will be talked about a lot in 2017. It is a darkly beautiful tale with a beguiling exploration of acceptance and forgiveness. This is not a book to be missed.

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