It is my absolute pleasure to take part in the blog tour for Seal Skin by Su Bristow, an absolutely stunning tale of family and forgiveness.
The Official Book Blurb
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.
Typically, for my reviews, I would take the time to rewrite the blurb for a book. To express the essence of the story in my own words. But this is not my typical kind of story and after thinking long and hard I feel that to try and write more would be folly. For me, much of the beauty of this book came in the reading, the gradual uncovering of the world in which Donald lives with his mother and family. The true delight of reading is not the destination, the ultimate pleasure comes from the journey, the discovery of story on each page, and for me I truly believe that you need to read this book and go on that journey for yourself. Nothing I can say in rewriting the blurb, expanding on the plot, will do this book justice. If you read it you will understand what I mean.
This book is rich in not only language but in folklore, in this case Celtic folklore telling of the Selkies, a group of seal-like creatures who possess the ability to change into human form. It is Donald’s encounter with these mythical beings which changes the course of his life forever and which also brings about a change in the fortunes of many of the residents of his village. On that fateful night, decisions are made which cannot be taken back and as a result Donald meets, Mairhi, the woman who will ultimately become his wife and mother to two beautiful children.
Donald undergoes a major transformation throughout the story, from a quiet and weak young man who makes a grave mistake, to someone who learns the ultimate lesson in forgiveness and the importance of family. Having lived alone with his mother after his father was lost to the sea, Mairhi’s arrival is such a jolt for him and yet because of her he learns to love and be loved for the first time in his life. I should hate Donald for his selfish actions and yet the growth in his character, his personal journey, and an understanding of everything he has lost in his life make it virtually impossible to do so.
His mother, Bridie, is a formidable woman who has raised him on her own in spite of being judged as an outsider by the villagers. She acts as midwife and doctor when they are ailing, but they are still suspicious of her and Mairhi’s arrival does nothing to change that. She too makes an error in judgement in her life, one which she carries around with her, plaguing her conscience as sure as any leaden burden.
From the very opening, the language and the mythical beauty that is captured in the narrative truly drew me in. I cannot believe how quickly the pages and the hours passed as I read this for once I had started, I never wanted it to stop. I cannot say that I definitely knew where this story would lead, but there was a certain inevitability about the conclusion from the very beginning. The slow, softly-beating rhythm of the story, akin to the flapping wings of a butterfly, kept me moving forward, and the poetic imagery which Su Bristow conjured up truly evoked the spirit of many a fishing village and the anticipated mysticism of old folklore. The atmosphere created in the book, the pacing, the description of setting, are nothing short of perfect.
The petty jealousies, the fear and apprehension which the villagers had towards Mairhi, and the slow blossoming trust which develops between her and Donald, are all interpreted and built so beautifully and skilfully that it was impossible not to fall in love with this book. I really don’t know if I have done it any justice with my words but then this is a book you need to read to understand. There are no pow moments. No big shocking reveals. This is just gently narrated beauty from the first page to the last.
As I said before, this is not my typical kind of read, and though I am in a way fascinated by folklore, I might not have picked this up had I not been invited to take part in the blog tour. I am very, very grateful that I was. I did not cry, but the ending really did touch my heart. I, like Donald, will not forget.
A hauntingly beautiful 5 stars.
My very grateful thanks to publisher Orenda Books for providing an ARC of ‘Seal Skin’. It is available now in e-book and is released in paperback format in the UK on 15th February. It can be purchased at the following links.
About the Author
Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern. Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar), and ‘Changes’ which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Her forthcoming novel, Sealskin, is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magical realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.
Why not stop by one of the other fab blogs taking part in the tour?