Welcome to my stop on the Sealskin blog tour which I am thrilled to be a part of for this stunning book!
Published: 25th November 2016 eBook & 15th February 2017 Print
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.
I honestly don’t know how I am going to do this book justice with my humble opinion! Sealskin is absolutely stunning in both it’s plot and Bristow’s writing style. Right from the first few pages I thought that this was going to be special – and I was right!
Sealskin is a modern take on the various legends of the selkies which are told along the northern coasts of Scotland – in this instance Bristow has drawn from the legend whereby seals came ashore, shed their skins and became beautiful young women however a fisherman made the transition back impossible for one of the seals.
Donald is a lonely young fisherman who attracts teasing and ridicule from his peers, therefore hides away spending the majority of his time either on his own or in the remote home that he shares with his mother, Bridie. One night, he sees a spectacular sight whereby seals have come ashore and turned into beautiful women – in the spur of the moment, he selfishly hides one of the skins and therefore prevents one of the seals returning to the water. If only this was his only error!! In an attempt to redeem himself from his violent act, he takes this young selkie home to care for her. Despite the violent start, what follows is actually a beautiful story of a young man trying to fix a huge mistake and the care and attention that is shown to him by the selkie, Mairhi.
One of the many wonderful qualities of this book is the complete innocence of Mairhi, the sensitivity she naturally has towards others and her childlike qualities as she is learning literally everything there is to being a human. Mairhi is able to build up bonds through her actions and kindness alone which is completely lovable, I adored Mairhi’s character. Bridie is also a wonderful character, strong since losing her husband in a tragic fishing accident and trying to sort out her son’s mess whilst being extremely nurturing towards Mairhi, helping her to adapt to her new surroundings, make friends and learn new skills – and Mairhi actually teaches Bridie a thing or two in her own way.
Most of all I enjoyed the transformation that Donald goes through, there is no escaping his violent act at the start of the book but that one night brings about a journey whereby he is finally becoming comfortable in his own skin. He goes through the rest of the book trying to atone for his mistakes which lends itself to a beautiful relationship between him and Mairhi.
Bristow has woven a beautiful tale of love, loss, friendship and forgiveness, it has a serious side where it looks inwards into a community and how they treat people who are different to them which is centred on the mysterious Mairhi but also includes many other characters due to their individual nuances. Sealskin is beautifully written, it transports the reader to northern Scotland through its descriptions of the Scottish landscape and the poetic narrative really compliments its content and gives it a magical feel.
A truly special book which is beautifully written.
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 debut 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’.