Sealskin by Su Bristow
I could not even begin to think of how many books I have read in my life and especially since I started writing book review that has affected me in one way or another there have been many through the years. In March 2014 I was about to enter hospital for heart surgery and to take my mind of the worrying time a friend drove me to the beautiful City of Exeter and to see the very first Exeter Novel Prize for 2013 being awarded. We very quietly sat and watched the local MP Ben Bradshaw award the first ever Novel Prize to Su Bristow for her hauntingly beautiful novel Sealskin. I had done my homework on the novels that had a chance of winning that afternoon. I recall saying to my good friend on the way home that I had a feeling that we would be hearing many good things about Su Bristow and Sealskin in the months that lay ahead. My only disappointment is it has taken so long and yet again to the immense credit of Karen Sullivan the brains behind Orenda Books that at last many people are now making this dream come true. I am just so delighted to have been present that day and Su Bristow deserves the success that her novel Sealskin deserves.
This has been the hardest review I have written to-date and no doubt long after it has been posted I will still be struggling to write a review that will do Su Bristow’s Sealskin the justice that is deserves. There are a number of reasons why this novel has so affected me, firstly the setting any novel that is set on the West Coast of Scotland is going to affect me for those personal reasons that I won’t go into here but when it is mixed with the poetic tale and prose of Su Bristow then it becomes something more. Sealskin deeply affected me like no other novel has in many years. Now I know that many reviewers I have spoken with have all struggled to find the right words to describe its astonishing beauty. So I will just give a brief outline of why YOU must go and buy a copy today and experience the magical story of Sealskin.
This is a story based around the old Scottish legend that is Selkies. Some will know of this legend and to some they will when they have read Sealskin. Set on a quiet West Coast fishing village, were the landscape is hard but stunning and the people are tuned into nature and have become resilient and resourceful. It is here that Donald and quiet and lonely fisherman experiences something he only believed came straight from the myth and folklore and watches a Selkie shed her skin that transforms her into a human but Donald makes a life changing mistake. For Donald and Mairhi there cannot be any undoing what has just happened. From the very beginning I transfixed by the beautiful poetic prose and the story had only just begun. My heart was sold. The real beauty of this story lies at the heart of the communities of the West Coast a part of Scotland that will be forever be a part of me it is the close knit community that comes together but for both Donald and Mairhi their relationship has an immediate impact as one or two locals clearly know something is going on and they face all manner of gossip and the prejudices. You cannot help but be taken by Mairhi she is just leads the story with her presence although she may be vulnerable she also brings a certain peace and tranquillity to the story. I was transfixed by her presence on every page. There are many characters and everyone has a part to play, we are all human and have qualities and failures and some are complex and here you will experience all this but you just cannot fail to become part of the story as you move from page to page totally transfixed.
I don’t think I have experienced the range of emotions I have gone through both reading and writing this review and since I finished reading I have not stopped thinking of Sealskin. Something about its pure beauty has got inside me and won’t leave. The setting and the story are a heady cocktail that have left me with a hangover from a book that I have not yet experienced. When a grown man tells you I shed a number of tears over this story then you know that there is something incredibly beautiful to be experienced here.
What happens to both Donald and Mairhi is something I will not reveal here as it would be remiss of me to give it away. I can now see myself on the West Coast of Scotland looking out to sea listening to the sound of the gentle waves caressing the shoreline and sat re-reading this mesmerising magical novel that has to be experienced to be believed. My message is simple. ‘Just read it for yourself and enjoy the magic and beauty’ A novel for 2017 that will not be forgotten by me. My mind goes back to March 2014 and watching Su Bristow collecting the 2013 Exeter Novel Award and I for one am so pleased I was present. I have no idea how Su Bristow is going to follow up this but I for one can only hope for more.
Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the advanced review copy.
Sealskin by Su Bristow is published by Orenda Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The Sealskin Official Blog Tour Continues