Greetings, readers! I’m sitting by a lovely fire on a chilly night in Austin. It is finally starting to feel a little bit like winter (though those of you who live in places with four whole seasons will say it feels like fall). I figured, since I’m home alone, cozy, and feeling talkative, I’d write a review of the book I finished this morning.
The Brides of Rollrock Island is an incredibly difficult book to describe. I’ve never really read anything quite like it. Though it is classified as teen, it feels much more mature. Rather than being a novel that follows one character through a single narrative arc, it is a series of short stories set on the same island, and the stories of several generations are told so that, from beginning to end, there are multiple arcs under the umbrella of one grand arc.
Misskaella, who features in each of the characters’ stories and tells one of her own, is a chubby, unhappy girl who grows into a bitter old witch, resentful of the people of her village for making her feel outcast. To exact her vengeance upon the men and women of the town, she calls beautiful women from the sea, to enchant the men of the town, dividing husbands from wives and ensuring that the young unmarried women of the town are rendered irrelevant. The “brides” are selkies, seal-women whose seal coats have been locked away by the husbands. If they were to ever find the coats and slip back into them, they would be changed back into seals and swim away forever, for they long for the sea above all other things.
I love the selkie myth and am happy to see it re-imagined in such an incredibly lovely way. Lanagan’s writing is as rare a beauty as are the seal-women she has created
in this novel. If you do not know anything about the selkies, please refer to this for insight. The tone of this novel is cold and sorrowful. She does a splendid job of capturing the weather and the emotion that accompanies living on the bleak, rocky shores of northern seas. Her setting is wind-swept, cold, and lonely; painted in blues and grays; and the site of an immensely tragic undoing of a town steeped in enchantment and mystery.
I was surprised to love it as much as I did. Despite being excited about it, I’d not heard much hype about it and figured it must be mediocre at best. Far from mediocre, it is a treasure, and I adored it. Please give this author (and the selkies) the attention deserved and read this novel.