I am absolutely delighted to be on the blog tour for Su Bristow’s Sealskin today and to be able to share my review. I will be honest and tell you that never has a review caused me so much difficulty to write. It has literally taken me a whole week as I loved Sealskin so much I couldn’t get my words down onto the computer screen. This review in no way does the book justice!
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.
Mix together folklore, magical realism and beautiful prose and what do you get? You get the utterly sublime Sealskin by Su Bristow. This is going to be a difficult review to write as how can you convey how much you love a book in just a few paragraphs?
In a fishing village on the west coast of Scotland, Donald lives a solitary life with his mother. He lacks confidence and shuns social interactions with the villagers. One night, when out alone in his boat, he witnesses an unbelievable event and his actions in response to it change his life forever. As well as being a modern take on Selkie folklore, Sealskin is a tale about the nature of being human and its hindrances, how the seemingly incomprehensible can result in fear and the consequences of our actions.
Bristow writes beautifully. The characters within the novel have a depth to them that draws you to them and makes you eager to understand them. Initially unsure of Donald due to his actions at the beginning of the book, he begins to demonstrate that he is not a ‘bad’ person and he goes on to redeem himself. But will his actions come back to haunt him? Can you ever get away with what you have done? Bristow’s depiction of Maihri is stunning, with her capturing the very essence of her perfectly. Maihri has an ethereal quality about her that is beguiling in her ability to be both incredibly gentle and yet intoxicate and potentially cause you harm. I adored her total lack of self-consciousness which is child-like and enchanting. Maihri’s relationship with Donald is, for me, the most wonderful layer of this story. Together they learn what it is to be human and Donald is able to meet his potential and become the person he was meant to be. A tale about the human condition and all its flaws are one of the reasons Sealskin is an incredibly special book. Bristow conveys this message in such a way that you have to pause and reflect on what you have read.
The setting adds so much to the story with Bristow’s descriptions of the sea emphasising its simultaneous beauty and savagery and the power it has over those who live by it and work within it. I found myself completely immersed within the village and partaking in the life of its inhabitants. Sealskin is pure escapism and has a magical quality that makes you fall in love with it.
Sealskin has you holding your breath at its sheer beauty and is one of those books you don’t want to let go. It is a quiet novel that soothes and calms and yet resounds deeply within you. A book I will return to again and again. If you have to read only one book this year, make it Sealskin.
A huge thank you to Su Bristow, Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for my copy of Sealskin and allowing me to take part in the blog tour.
Sealskin was published on ebook on 20 December 2016 and paperback on 15 February 2017 by Orenda Books.
Be sure to catch the other stops on the Sealskin blog tour.