Sealskin was published by Orenda Books on 20 December 2016 and is available to buy here
What is Sealskin all about?
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.
Sealskin is a disturbing mythical tale in modern form.
It is a retelling of the legend of the Selkie. For all of you puzzling over what a Selkie actually it, it is a type of seal. When a Selkie takes off its skin, it becomes human. The most obvious comparison is that of a mermaid. Men find themselves falling under the spell of a Selkie. That is their excuse anyway.
In Sealskin, Donald is a fisherman living somewhere remote in Scotland. He is part of a small tight knit community. This appears to be in the distant past, as there is little evidence of technological advancements. One day he spies a Selkie turned into human form. He has to have her. Donald assaults her and then takes her captive. He names her, Mairhi. Mairhi is found to be pregnant. Because he has fallen in love with her, Donald justifies his actions and keeps Mairhi as his wife. Donald is punished in the long term for his reckless behaviour.
Sealskin is not the kind of novel I would instinctively be drawn to. I did find it an extremely dark and uncomfortable read. Uncomfortable because it could easily be interpreted as magical and transformative, when it is brutal and sad. Su Bristow does a terrific job in telling this tale and creating a timeless feeling to the drama. I cannot fault the writing.
The subject matter disagreed with me somewhat. I could not empathise at all with Donald. It seemed to me like presenting a rape in the form of a myth is downplaying the seriousness of sexual assault. He did not deserve forgiveness or our understanding. It did not feel right to me that Donald’s behaviour was explained away and minimalised. Mairhi the Selkie is a victim, continually portrayed as being childlike and innocent. This seemed to me to reinforce Donald’s unacceptable behaviour time and time again. Mairhi never has an opportunity to say what she wants. She was trapped with this man, with her means of escape removed. In spite of this terrible situation, she makes the lives of those around her better. She cares. She integrates into the community. She is a light in the midst of darkness. Yet we do not hear from her. She is silent. Her silence shows her separateness. It confirmed to me that she was merely biding time and playing a waiting game.
Sealskin will provoke a reaction. A pretty strong one. This is not a magical tale, with a happily ever after. It is raw. It is dark. It is disturbing.
Su Bristow is on Twitter https://twitter.com/SuBristow
Buy your own copy of Sealskin Amazon UK
Check out the author’s website http://www.subristow.co.uk/
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