Book Review: Sealskin by Su Bristow

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—evokes 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, 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. ( From Goodreads.com)  

Published 15th February 2017 by Orenda Books (UK)

I knew, as soon as I read the synopsis for Sealskin, that this was going to be my kind of book. I love re-tellings of old legends and myths and a hint of magic realism. Having read some wonderful reviews and followed the author's fascinatingly interesting blog tour, I couldn't wait to read it for myself.   

Sealskin is set on a Scottish Island in a small fishing village and Su Bristow captures the essence of the rugged landscape and sea beautifully - harsh, raw and at times violent combined with a breathtaking beauty, purity and etherealness. And it's those same qualities which transcend into this exquisite story and the lives of its characters. 

The story begins with Donald, a lonely and often ostracised member of this close knit community, who while out fishing late at night witnesses something magical, something only a few humans have ever seen. His reaction is shocking and uncomfortable, a violent act in contrast the purity of the magic he has just seen. It was difficult here to accept Donald's actions, and I worried that my distaste and anger at what Donald does was so great, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the rest of the book. 

But this where Su Bristow's skill as a master story teller shines. Sealskin is a fairytale-not the watered down, happy ever after ones we're accustomed to nowadays, but of the traditional variety. Dark themes, flawed characters, naivety and wisdom mixing together with a message of hope, learning and overcoming both real and personal demons. I could imagine this story being told by candlelight hundreds of years ago, while remaining as enchanting and relevant to a modern reader.  

I loved the character of Mairhi. She is written with such care that the feelings of calmness and healing she shares with those in the book seep from the page. She doesn't speak, but the lyricism of her aura and eyes expressing her needs and feelings is written so evocatively, I could feel and imagine it myself. Indeed, Su Bristow's prose throughout, from her depictions of characters to descriptions of the stunning scenery and nature, are so mesmerising and vivid, that I truly became lost in the story. While reading, my own surroundings blurred away and I had a feeling of coming out of a dream when looking up from the pages, needing a few seconds to anchor myself back in my own world.  

I went into Sealskin hoping that I would love it, and I did. Every word of it. For me, reading Sealskin was reminiscent of my experience of reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. There aren't many books I can think of that have had this all encompassing effect on me while transporting me to another world, which stays with me so vividly for years to come, but I'm adding Sealskin to that list. 

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