Writer: Margo Lanagan
Publishing House: Knopf Books
Date of Publication: January 1st 2009
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Rollrock is a lonely island of cliffs and storms, blunt fishermen and their fierce wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic.’’
When I read (and adored) Kirsty Logan’s The Gloaming, my dear friend Marina recommended Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island because she knows how much I love myths, islands, and selkies. I can honestly say (one more time) that Marina knows me frighteningly well. If you love island communities, the Scottish landscape, myths and tales, witches, weird births, seals and selkies or if you just need to read a quality tale, then you need this book in your life.
In an island that definitely resembles the Scottish Hebrides, a community is torn asunder by Misskaella’s abilities to turn seals into beautiful, alluring, seemingly docile young women. Families and relationships are turned upside down. This is Misskaella’s way of exacting revenge for years of contempt and abuse, even from her own mother. She demonstrates the evil, the hypocrisy and ruthlessness of men, their willingness to put everything at risk because of an itch.
‘’The north road swung up over the cliff almost gaily, and we walked it up into the teeth of the wind, and it battered our hair and flapped our coat-collars. The sea on our left tossed moon-twinkles about, rushed and smashed at the cliffs, drummed in the road underfoot.’’
Lanagan makes excellent use of the fairytales of the sea and the legends of the islands, focusing on the beloved myth of the selkie women. However, she develops the famous story and takes it one step further, in a brilliant twist of the ages-old legend. Furthermore, she brings the children of the selkie wives out of obscurity and gives them the chance to express their feelings of belonging to two worlds that are so close and so far away. Where do they belong? What is it that makes an island community so harsh and unforgiving? What happens when the laws of nature and its balance are violated because of men’s desires and endless ego?
Lanagan’s writing is excellent. She depicts the language of the islanders and the younger members of the community faithfully and vividly, the dialogue is flowing and natural. There are many beautiful descriptions of the island at night, the community of the seals, the fishing villages, the harsh domestic life as a responsibility of the resilient mams. There were quite a few moments that reminded me of Logan’s The Gloaming and this is the highest compliment for Lanagan’s beautiful novel.
“MacCodram and his Seal Wife”. Artwork by Kate Leiper
The jewel of the story is Misskaella, a heroine that will stay with you. She is such an interesting character, so fierce and proud. The way she copes with her awful family and the heathens that surround her with their notions of propriety and their superstitions. I believe every thinking girl will find herself connected to her. She is the Witch, the ‘’Other’’, the one who doesn’t comply, the one who rebels.
The Brides of Rollrock Island is a novel rich in beautiful imagery, themes that require our attention as it happens in every well-written tale and a main character you will love.
‘’Complain? It’s only noise.’’
* Marina, I can’t thank you enough for this gem! Hvala ti! (If I didn’t get that right, someone will find himself in trouble…) *