Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic – the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells – and brings forth girls from the sea – girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness – the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen.
But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment.
Margo Lanagan has written an extraordinary tale of desire, despair and transformation. In devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals unforgettable characters capable of unspeakable cruelty – and deep unspoken love. After reading about the Rollrock fishermen and their sea brides, the world will not seem the same.
Paper copy given to me as a discard.
Having grown up with the idea of Selkies as part of Irish folklore, I decided to read this before I passed it on.
The first part of the book concentrates on Misskaella, the youngest of the Prout family, who seems to have a way with the Seals who live on the island’s beach, to the point where she has to cross herself to prevent them following her through the town. It sets the rest of the story up nicely, which then is told from several Points of View: the island man who desires a seal woman, even though he is already married; the island man who escaped to the mainland as a child, returns ahead of his marriage to sell the family home, only to be enchanted by a seal woman; the children of the Island men and the Seal Women, who don’t know life can be different until confronted by people from the mainland who find them fascinating, and who then find their mothers’ “coats” (seal skins) hanging up in the local pub for safe keeping; the escape of the women to the sea, taking their sons with them, and a clue as to what happens to any girl offspring; a possible change in fortune for the island and the future population; The view of Misskaella through the eyes of her apprentice, who has been brought from the mainland to take over when Misskaella dies. Continue reading