A Year of Orenda – Sealskin by Su Bristow

Today I’m passing back to Mandie who has a review of the beautiful folk tale from Su Bristow, Sealskin. I read this book a couple of years ago and was absolutely captivated by the story and the world that the author had created. Touching on the legend of the Selkies, this is a truly emotional tale and if you want to know my full thoughts, you can find my review here. Read on for Mandie’s thoughts and to learn more of what the book is all about:

Source: Amazon

About the Book

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.

Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Hive | Googleplay | Apple Books

Mandie’s Thoughts

On the face of it, Sealskin is not a book that I would normally consider reading but there are times when you need to take a chance, broaden your horizons, and read something completely different. This is not a book that is fast paced or full of action, but it will certainly capture your imagination and hold your attention from start to finish.

Donald is a bit of an outcast in the fishing village that he lives in with his mother Bridie so is often out at night on his own. On one such occasion he witnesses something that he finds hard to believe and his reactions to it are life changing for him and those around him. What follows however is a true tale of learning, forgiving, and understanding not just for Donald, but for his family and the community.

There are elements to this book that may be hard for some to read, from the opening chapters where Donald forces himself on Mairhi to the domestic abuse from Aly on his wife Jessie. These scenes are not in any way graphic or long but go in someway to help understand the changes that take place amongst the menfolk, in no small part brought about by Mairhi.

Whilst you can’t help but dislike Donald at the start of the book, you can see that over time he sees the error he made and sets about making things as right as he can. Whilst initially Mairhi is fearful of him, you can see the changes and they manage to communicate in so many ways without speakingthat adds to the mystical element of this book. As he grows in his own understanding of what must be done, he also manages to confront the torments of his childhood, finding a way to forgive and show there are better ways to deal with problems.

The fact that Mairhi is unable to talk gives her an air of vulnerability that eventually touches everyone and their distrust of the outsider slowly ebbs away. Ultimately there was never going to be a happy ending to this story, yet you feel for the characters as the inevitable ending plays out.

Based on the myths of the Selkies this is Su Bristow’s first book and I think that she has managed to create something that blends the mystical legend with the village community with ease. Her writing style is such that you can easily imagine the landscape and the harsh realities of relying on the sea and its unpredictability for a living. This is certainly a book that will stay with me for quite some time.

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 withpsychotherapist, 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. Sealskin is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish and Nordic 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’.

Author Links: Twitter

Books by Su Bristow

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