As always, I would like to start by saying a huge huge THANK YOU to Karen @ Orenda Books for allowing me an early copy of SEALSKIN. I am extremely grateful and promise that the review below is 100% honest and my own views.
So first off, we have “the blurb” for the book:
Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous … and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?
Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Exeter Novel Prize-winner Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance.
Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.
So, you want to know what I think?
Charming, dazzling, delicate, delightful, elegant, graceful, stunning, superb and wonderful. Just some of the many synonyms I can use for BEAUTIFUL as this is what this book is.
I have to admit that when I read the premise for SEALSKIN, I had to sit and wonder whether this was the book for me and would I enjoy it. I’m a crime-fiction girl at heart and sometimes feel more comfortable with grim, mysterious and dramatic writing. After a stern conversation with my doctor – they once advised me that maybe switching my reading habits every now and then would help lift my mood. It was at this point I picked up FIFTY SHADES OF GREY when it first came out (I actually loved the series by the way! Despite the questionable writing)
Anyway – I digress. What I am trying to say in a waffly way is that I am now more open to new genres of fiction and that’s why I jumped into SEALSKIN knowing nothing about the story apart from the blurb and I was truly blown away.
Such a simple story, but with a wonderful writing style, Bristow was able to take her readers to the Scottish setting where SEALSKIN takes place and allow us to become invested in the characters. So much so that I found myself in tears towards the end of the story.
A truly wonderful read that I will be recommending to EVERYONE!
Su was gracious enough to answer some questions we had about this wonderful book!
1) Can you tell us what the inspiration was for you to write SEALSKIN?
I’ve always loved the Selkie legends, because they speak to us on so many levels. But it’s the contradiction at the heart of this story that really got me wondering: how would that really work? A relationship that starts with violence and trickery could surely only have one outcome – but what if the fisherman regretted what he had done, and truly wanted to make amends? So, of course, it had to be written from Donald’s point of view. It was a risk, because he isn’t at all likeable to start with, and that’s often death to the whole novel. But I thought it was a risk worth taking.
2) Do you believe in any other legends? If so, have you considered writing a novel based on them?
All the great legends are ‘true’, in the sense that they express something we need to say about the human condition, but some have more resonance for me than others. Some of my favourites are The Snow Queen, the story of Persephone, Cupid and Psyche and Skeleton Woman. But the little stories are often more full of life, like the Norwegian tale of the woman who saves herself from a troll by playing the riddle game. I adapted that for a short story, ‘Troll Steps’, which is in the anthology ‘Barcelona to Bihar’ by Earlyworks Press.
3) Why did you choose the legend of Selkies for your first novel?
It started out as a short story! I chose it for its layers of meaning. Apart from the main theme mentioned above, there’s the way we respond to nature, wildness and magic. How we deal with outsiders or people who don’t fit in. How we can grow through and beyond some of the terrible things that happen to us, or – sometimes – the terrible things we do. I love stories in which magic comes into everyday life, and I’m half Scottish, so I felt I had permission, in a way, to work with this story.
4) Your history in writing started with non-fiction works on herbal medicine – what prompted you to make the move into fiction writing?
Actually, fiction came first. I was always making up stories in my teens, with friends or by myself. Then real life got in the way! I never stopped reading fiction, except for a year or so at university, but the business of getting qualified, getting married, having children, settling in mid-Devon and so on, took priority. It wasn’t until I moved to Exeter about ten years ago that I found my way to a creative writing class, and started making things up again. I knew I needed the support and stimulus of fellow-travellers. Those classes were huge fun, and when they finished a group of us carried on meeting to read and give each other feedback on our work. We still do.
5) What is next for Su Bristow?
Right now, standing on the brink of paperback publication, the focus is on helping Sealskin on its way. Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books is doing a fantastic job of arranging publicity – this blog tour is the proof of that! And there are roadshows, articles and so on to come. But I am also working on the next novel. Fairies are involved this time, but not the sort that flit around the flowers. These are the kind that lead you off the path, give you wishes that never quite work properly, steal things and generally disturb your peace. It won’t be soon, but I am getting there…
About SU BRISTOW:
Su Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern.
Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar), and ‘Changes’ which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Her forthcoming novel, Sealskin, is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magical realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.
SEALSKIN is out now and can be purchased at the following outlets;
Be sure to check out the other blogs participating in this Blog Tour. See below for further details and be sure to follow all the action across Twitter!