Sometimes a book will come along that hypnotises you just so and holds you so much under its spell that when it comes time to even attempt to do it justice in a review that it becomes pretty much impossible to put into words just how bloody good it is and those superlatives that are known merely prove inadequate. Su Bristow’s Sealskin is one of those books.
Winner of 2013’s Exeter Novel Prize, Sealskin is based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people. More specifically the legend of a fisherman who, one night at full moon, witnessed nine seals who came to shore, took off their skins and became beautiful young women dancing on the beach. In Su Bristow’s novel that fisherman watches the women dance and, unable to contain himself, makes a terrible mistake. That mistake has ramifications for both him, the young woman and the small fishing community where life is hard, the sea is all powerful and belief is as strong as fact.
So what could I say about this book now that it’s my turn on the blogtour? This book for which superlatives are not enough and others have heaped such well deserved praise on. What could I add?
I could say that it’s haunting, that it’s captivating and mesmerising. I could point out that Sealskin is one of the best things I’ve read and I could go on to say that Su Bristow’s narrative is so delicious that it pulls you slowly and completely into a story so satisfying and equal parts joyous and heartbreaking (utterly so) that it leaves you yearning for more and I could (should) also point out that when you do turn the final page the immersion within its world is so total that you will get withdrawal symptoms and find yourself looking around at your environment as if it were alien with an almighty book hangover.
I could say that I found this beautiful novel completely mesmerising that I barely put it down. I could mention that the characters are all so perfectly nuanced and full as to leave me wondering if this were legend or fact.
I could point out how Su Bristow’s portrayal of this bleak place’s calm, stoic acceptance of hardship and grief (“He could just remember his little sister, stumbling after him down the path, crying when she stung her hand on the nettles, laughing when he tickled her. She had it all to learn, too, when the fever burned her life away.”) is so much more affecting than anything I’ve read in some time.
I could say all of this but what I really want to say is that this Sealskin is such an absolute essential addition to any self-respecting book lovers’ collection that if you don’t love it there’s probably something wrong with you.
Yes, that’s what I’ll say: you need Sealskin by Su Bristow on your bookshelf. But only after you’ve read it and let it possess you.
I’ll also say a huge thanks again to Karen at Orenda for sending me a copy of this to review and for continuing to take chances on and publishing such bloody good literature.