I’ve just read “Sealskin” a beautiful, un-put-downable book by Su Bristow. It defies classification – “magical” is one that is useful, “fantasy” is probably a little strong. It’s based on a Scottish tale of a seal maiden who leaves her sealskin behind to dance on land, captivating a young man into an uncharacteristic act which has life altering potential. I’m trying hard not to give away the plot, in case you might wish to read it! I would suggest that reading the afterword of the legend of the “selkies” or seal people is one way of ensuring the ending doesn’t come as a shocking surprise. Then again, it does slightly spoil the tale if you do.
The writing is smooth and drew me into the world of water, sea and rocks. And the close knit community of a scottish fishing village, suffocating, alienating, welcoming by turns. The suspiciousness of change and the hardened perceptions of “outsiders” ring true to me as someone from a fairly small town. Rumours and gossip, fights and feuds pepper the narrative along with detailed descriptions of nature and the hard but satisfying crofting/fishing way of life. Weaving through is the character of Donald the young man, an outsider, an introvert, a man painfully not at home in his own itchy skin. He’s so honest: it is difficult to watch with him in his choices and decisions. His growth into a man of warmth and strength through the events of the book is it’s charm and attraction for me – integrated into his community, loved and well taught by his choices and the deftly drawn family and villagers who inhabit the tale.
The other main character’s strength and joy, vulnerable childlike simplicity and ability to teach the observation of heart and intent makes this just such a lovely read. I bought it on a whim and I am so glad I have done so.