Today I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Sealskin by Su Bristow. Sealskin was a book I had been looking forward to reading for quite a while. I loved the sound of it and as I read more and more reviews from fellow bloggers who adored it, I was even more excited about reading it.
‘How could he tell what other folks might be thinking or feeling, when he did not know his own heart?’
Sealskin is a story inspired by the legend of the selkies – seals that can transform into people. According to one version of this legend, a fisherman witnesses nine seals who remove their skins to become beautiful young women. This leaves him entranced, and eager to take one of them to be his wife. But without their sealskin, they are unable to return to the sea, and instead remain in human form, always longing for the life they left behind. It is this version of the stories which Su Bristow works with in this novel. In it we meet Donald, a young fisherman who lives on the west coast of Scotland with his mother Bridie, a herbalist. Donald lives a relatively solitary existence. Throughout his life he has been something of an outsider amongst his peers and you get a sense that he feels inadequate in comparison to others in the community where the emphasis is in everyone chipping in and doing their bit to benefit the community as a whole. One night, an extraordinary event occurs which dramatically changes Donald’s path. He witnesses the mysterious selkies for himself, and captivated by the sight of them, he cannot resist getting closer. This leads him to make a terrible mistake. I was left taken aback by Donald’s actions – this sudden, frightening act which signals the start of a remarkable journey for Donald and for Mairhi, the selkie who is brought to dry land in the most traumatic of circumstances.
‘Nothing was changed, and yet nothing could be the same.’
From the very beginning I was captivated and fascinated by this story. In it we see a tight knit community and how the dynamic within changes when Donald returns with Mairhi by his side. Donald’s mother Bridie, a key figure in the community who the neighbours turn to for help, is quick to think of a resolution to Donalds’ predicament. She establishes a way to explain Mairhi’s sudden appearance without arousing too much suspicion from curious neighbours. Su Bristow has perfectly created a sense of a small community where everyone knows everyone, and has evoked an image of the rugged, harsh landscape of the Scottish coast and the challenges life there brings. It has a feel of being a classic folk tale passed on through the generations, but the themes it explores are timeless. It explores the resilience of the human race, the way humans adapt to changing circumstances and most importantly how we learn to love, and form friendships. For me one of the biggest triumphs in this book was how Donald evolved as a character. To see him gradually change over the course of the story from a lonely man who makes a grave error in judgement, to a man who must step up to new found responsibility, and to seek redemption for his actions from the past. And for a man who for many years felt lost at sea, I read on in hope that he would find the acceptance he craved. Through Donald’s story, we are transported to a very special place, an ordinary community, and the extraordinary woman who joins them.
‘Do you think, if something starts wrong, it can come right in the end?’
I absolutely loved Sealskin and found it to be a beautifully written, moving read. It is a story of love and friendship, of fear and acceptance that had me gripped. Su Bristow has expertly crafted a very human tale in which magic and reality collide. A wonderful novel with prose to savour.
Sealskin was published on 15th February 2017 by Orenda Books. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for providing a copy for review.
This review was written as part of the Sealskin blog tour. You can check out the other stops on the tour on the dates and blogs below: