By Margo Lanagan
Published by David Fickling Books
Teenage female fantasy fans will consume this spellbinding novel with delight. Award-winning writer Margo Lanagan spins her own intriguing version of the northern European myth of the selkie - a seal that takes the form of a young woman when on dry land.
The creatures often take a human bridegroom who knows of their other life. To keep them on dry land, the men hide their seal skin. But selkies always yearn for the sea when living as humans, and will return to the ocean if they find the skin they shed.
Rollrock Island is a remote coastal community that depends on the sea for its existence. The men are hardened fishermen, and their wives are home-builders with little to do with their energy or time than look after the home.
Misskaella is the unattractive, unloved and unwanted youngest daughter of the Prout family. She is bullied and tormented by her elder sisters and ridiculed by her parents.
But something disturbing happens to Misskaella when she is nine years old; she begins to develop a strange affinity with the island's colony of seals that live off Crescent Corner. On one frightening occasion, a group of seals follow the little girl home. Her family jokes about Missk's connection to the seals, little knowing the tragedy and chaos it will bring.
As her sisters grow up and marry, Missk is left behind to care for their ailing father. Her isolation grows as she is shunned: people believe she is a witch with a strange power over the seals that swim around their community . And Missk does indeed hide a terrible secret. She has the ability to draw a female human out from the body of a seal, creating beauty from a lumpen, water-bound creature.
When fisherman Able Marten learns of this power, he persuades Misskaella to create a perfect, beautiful wife for him. But Missk conjures up something dangerous from the depths, meaning Rollrock Island will never be the same again.
Australian Lanagan's latest fiction is intricate and multi-layered, going much deeper than its folklore surface. Here is a writer who works with beautiful, often obscure, but always rewarding prose.
A challenging and complex read, which weaves multiple narrators, uncertainty and ambiguity through this story of the beautiful sea-wives every Rollrock man wants to marry.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com