SealSkin – Su Bristow




What the blurb says:

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:

First of all, can I just say that Karen Sullivan just knows how to tempt me away from my usual fast paced, high body count, crime fiction read. Every time she gets it absolutely spot on and a huge thank you to Karen at Orenda Books and Su Bristow for the opportunity to read what has got to be one of the most powerfully, evocative and memorable books that I have had the pleasure to indulge myself in!

In folklore, the Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. If a man steals a female Selkie’s skin she is in his power and is forced to become his wife. Sealskin is a vivid retelling of the Selkie myth that will pick you up and transport you to the most magical and mystical place set in the Northern Islands of Scotland. As you turn the pages you will feel the wind on your face, taste the salt water on your lips and find yourself in a community brimming with secrets, suspicion and prejudice combined with a love story so breathtaking that you cannot fail to be moved to tears.

Sealskin starts with a wrongdoing by Donald, a shy fisherman who lives with his mother, Bridie. He is overcome with guilt at the act he has committed but Bridie is determined that he must now live with his actions and put things right. What follows is the most beautiful but heart-wrenchingly emotional story of a community who despite their misgivings come to accept the beguiling woman called Mairhi that Donald has brought home to become his wife.

Donald is a lonely man; he has been plagued with a childhood illness which makes work difficult for him and he struggles in a community where masculinity is measured by your ability to live and work a life on the sea. Although we are repulsed at Donald’s actions at the beginning of the book we see him grow in character and strength as he sets out to redeem himself.

Each of the characters are flawed in some way but Sealskin weaves a beautiful narrative around the changes in each and every one of them as they are bewitched by the influence of this mysterious young woman who has come amongst them.

Mairhi despite the fact she does not speak flows through the pages with a grace and enigmatic presence she has a calmness about her that bewitches those around her but also a darker power that serves to rebuke those try to cause her harm – her acceptance by the island folk is a long and eventful journey.

Sealskin is more than a simple love story, it explores our sense of community, the prejudice shown to those who are different to ourselves, how we forgive and grow as human beings and how our choices can shape so many different elements of our lives and the lives of those around us.

I don’t think any review can do this book justice if I were, to sum up how I feel after reading it I’d have to say that it was a profound, emotional, haunting and mesmerising experience to read this book. My eyes were filled with tears and my throat has had a lump in it since I turned the last page this morning. Sealskin has stolen a piece of my heart and for that I am grateful.

Sealskin is published on the 15th February and you can get your copy here



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