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, 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.
Sometimes, it’s good to have a break from reading crime books. Sealskin did indeed transport me away from the gritty reality of crime as Su Bristow conjured up the sights, sounds and smells of the Scottish coast. Cleverly, there isn’t a set time period for this book so that, although we know it’s not recent history, we’re not bogged down by historical accuracies – we’re simply captivated by the story. And what a story! And what a storyteller! Short chapters kept the pace going and enticed me to read late into the night. Beautiful descriptions gave me a clear sense of place and authentic characters spoke with Scottish accents in my head (always a good sign). A deeply atmospheric novel.
I didn’t actually need the tissues that were sent with this book but I was very moved and had a great sense of peace. Just as Mairhi eases Donald and the others that she meets, so this book was a chance to have some calm in my otherwise chaotic life. And as I head back to the world of crime genre, I do so feeling as though I’ve had a little holiday by the sea, with the sound of waves crashing on the rocks and the smell of salt on the air. I am refreshed.
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, Malcom 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. Sealskin is Su’s debut novel, and it won the Exeter Novel Prize in 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magic realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.
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