SECOND OPINION: Sealskin by Su Bristow

Article published on April 6, 2017.

The life of a crofter is tough and relentless. One night he sees something that he thought was only a rumour. He makes a snap decision, commits a terrible act and begins of a chain of events that will change him and the close-knit community where he lives.

His mother, Bridie, is quite shocked when he comes home with a girl. When she understands just what he has done and the implications behind it, she conceives a story to tell their friends and neighbours, and Donald becomes betrothed to Mairhi. But this stranger in the village is an unknown quantity, she cannot speak and she looks scared half to death most of the time. Bridie discovers when she takes her out to meet others in the village that she has a power that can bring calm and healing, although but as some soon learn, threatening her can bring dread and fear like they have never known. Some call her a witch, but only Donald and Bridie know what she really is. Gradually, tensions in the village disperse and people come to accept Mairhi and her two children.

This is a good reworking of an ancient legend, written with sensitivity and aplomb. Bristow has kept the key elements whilst adding depth and plausible characters. It is full of love and anger, joy and sadness, with a strong moral thread woven through the narrative. The writing is eloquent with evocative descriptions of the land and seascape. The main character, Donald, has some depth and even Mairhi develops well, which is neatly done as she does not utter a word. The remainder of the characters are there as a foil to these main ones. I know it ties it closer to the legend; however, there are a couple of unsavoury moments in the book.

Paul Cheney 3/3

Sealskin by Su Bristow
Orenda 9781910633601 pbk Feb 2017

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