I heard my first Selkie tale when I was fourteen years old. Fifteen minutes of a story read on Radio 4, The Sea Woman by Kevin Krossley-Holland. Fifteen minutes that became one of those life enhancing, life changing pivotal points of light. Selkies. Seals who swim wild in the sea but come to the shore to dance as, well, not humans but creatures very like us, on moonlit beaches.
From that time I hunted down stories of Selkies where ever I could find them, and songs. The Great Selkie Of Sule Skerrie, The Sea Child by Berlie Doherty, the most wonderful People of the Sea by David Thomson, Selkie tales wrapped in collections of stories from the sea, a George MacKay Brown story, and the beautiful Sealskin Soulskin that was sent to me accompanied by Women Who Run With the Wolves.
Then one day I came back from working in my studio to find a parcel from Norfolk and in the parcel a book and in the book, sea magic. A proof copy of Sea Hearts, later to become The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan. What could I do but dive in.
Reviews begin to get a bit ‘samey’ after a while. “A must for every bookshelf”, “Beautiful, poetic, powerful writing from a master craftswoman,” and it becomes hard to say something new without resort to cliche, so best say what I loved most about this book and that is:
The sea swaying rise and rhythm of the prose that lifts and carries and tosses and turns the reader about.
The character of Misskaella who exacts a terrible revenge on the men and the women of Rollrock with a simple act of magic and how this balances in her own life and story.
The powerful ‘seeing’ of the thin veils between worlds.
The description of how Misskaella finds the creature inside the seal and pinpoints the star like marks of light and life to draw them forth. Most of all this.
The love and folly of humanity so carefully observed.
The place itself, wild Rollrock.
The way that things are hidden from sealskins to secrets.
The love in it, real love, love that hurts.
“The coat collapsed to the rock, and the shining man stepped out. The moon lit his lifted face, and I laughed as I fell in love with it, in simple accordance with the terms of the old charm. Then he lowered his gaze to me, and likewise I dazzled him- it was none of my doing, only a matter of proximity and timing and our two natures- and we were locked together.”
The Brides of Rollrock Island, everything I could hope for, in a book. Beautiful.
ISBN 9780857560339 published by David Fickling Books Feb 2nd 2012