This evening I have my spoiler-free review of Sealskin by Su Bristow for you. I had mixed feelings about this book, but I ended up enjoying it and giving it 4 stars. This book is set in an isolated fishing village in the north of Scotland and includes folklore about selkies. As you may know, I loved Scottish folklore in books, so thank you Orenda books for sending me a copy!
Sealskin by Su Bristow
- UK paperback – 276 pages
- Release date: 1st of May 2017
- Published by Orenda Books
- ISBN: 1910633607
- Goodreads page for Sealskin here!
It’s no secret that I love our folklore, so was very excited to read a book featuring selkies. I really liked Bristow’s writing and absolutely loved the way she wrote about the small fishing community in the north of Scotland. It all felt very realistic and I found myself unable to put the book down.
I must say trigger warning for rape in this book, which is unfortunately a common part of selkie folklore. Much folklore has a horrible origin, and it’s unfortunate that selkies haven’t shaken off that part in their retelling’s yet. Fortunately it is a single line and not graphic (which perhaps downplays the seriousness), so if you want to read this book I can let you know when it happens.
As the line is so short I definitely felt like it could have been missed out. I suppose folklore comes from humans trying to make sense of horrors in real life, so you can see why the selkie tales would have developed in small isolated fishing villages.
Bristow’s writing is really brilliant. We read from the POV of Donald, who is the one to attack the selkie, which was interesting. At times you forget how the story started and can’t help but be swept up in his own excitement about the way life is going etc, but then the author would remind the reader what happened and jolt us back to the reality. I had mixed emotions throughout this book, which was a good thing.
Throughout the book we see other issues such as domestic abuse and alcoholism, but we also have an insight into why the characters are like that. Bristow does not try to excuse any of their actions which I thought made it a fascinating book, in terms of understanding human beings. I felt like there was a lot of character growth, showing that no one is simply good or evil.
I hope this review makes sense. I couldn’t help but love this book because of the setting and Scottish folklore. It is a dark book, and deals with dark issues, but at the same time you see a community coming together and relationships (as unhealthy as they may be) developing. I always wish that rape wouldn’t be included in books, but I think the author handled this folklore retelling well.
Thanks again to Orenda books for sending me a copy of this book!
As this book included rape whereas many retellings, for example of the Grimm brother’s work, exclude their horrible origins, it got me wondering if perhaps Scottish folklore is often portrayed darker because it’s been less popular in literature?
There has definitely been an increase in books set in Scotland / including Scottish folklore recently, and so I’m interested to see if they will use our folklore with the horrible parts included, or if they will simply set books here but then just use general folklore from around Europe.
You can add my first book, The Changeling’s Journey, on Goodreads here!