Sealskin by Su Bristow

Review published on March 29, 2017.

In all honesty, books about myths and legends are not always my thing but I had heard so much about Sealskin, all fabulous, that I really wanted to read it. I knew that Selkies were seals that shed their skins and become people, but that was the extent of my very limited knowledge, so I approached this book with interest.

It starts with a scene that made me feel quite uncomfortable, but I soon came to realise that it wasn’t a clear cut situation and it was absolutely necessary to make the story work. Su Bristow did an excellent job of writing that scene with as little shock factor as possible and underplaying something that was probably needed to take the story further. Donald is a man who has sometimes found life very difficult and has been a bit of an outsider, but when he sees the Selkies one night he takes a course of action that will change him and his life forever. I came to really like Donald, despite the opening section, as he grew as a consequence of his actions that night.

I couldn’t quite work out when the story was supposed to be set. I suppose that, like the legend, it’s timeless. The setting itself, a small Scottish fishing village, was so vividly described that I could imagine it all so clearly. The house, the beach, the sea, I could almost feel the sea breeze in my hair and imagine looking out at the fishing boats or indeed, observing the very same sight as Donald that night.

Donald, Mhairi and Donald’s mother, Bridie, are the main characters, but there are quite a few supporting characters too who all add to the sense of a small and enclosed community. Mhairi herself is so well-drawn and vibrant, no mean feat considering she had no words, and she is an immensely likeable and calm character.

I found this to be a book that needed concentration, particularly at the beginning. It’s an intense story and I read it quite slowly up to around the half way mark and then I was drawn right in and raced through to the poignant and heartrending conclusion.

Sealskin is a tender, moving and gentle read. Whilst there is an obvious magical feel to it, it’s so well written that it becomes almost believable. It’s a really lovely story and one which I think will stay with me.

Nicola Smith 4/4

Sealskin by Su Bristow
Orenda 9781910633601 pbk Feb 2017

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