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On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings—and to catch their wives.
The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment.
Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.
I found this book a bit confusing at first as I was reading. The language is somewhat ancient or of a different dialect so that it's hard to understand at first and I didn't fall into the rhythm of it or the meaning of it for quite some time. The second chapter is especially confusing because it occurs the longest back in time and the language is hardest to understand. The names and nicknames are hard to catch and whereas Misskaella's brother's and sisters have names like Billy and Ann and Bee she has this name. There is nothing to signify the change in time periods so I was left a bit floundering only realizing it because in the first chapter Misskaella is called an old witch as she sits on the beach weaving a blanket of seaweed and the young boys are all scared of her. In the second chapter she is a young child and you discover how she grew up to be a witch but she is still not that old woman. She doesn't become her until later in the story, another chapter.
I will say though that the story, a selkie or mermaid story, is one of the most genuinely unique I've ever read. Not only that, but the characters that the chapters focus on, you really get to know them and understand them. Some you may like, some you may not. Daniel Mallett is my favorite, I think he'll be yours too. The absolute love he has for his mother, so unselfish is unbelievable. At the lengths all the boys will got to secure their mothers' happiness was so beautiful. Once I understood time and place the language came together for me and I went back to understand the first chapter. It didn't take long for the story to come together when I read the first couple of pages again and got names and what the boys were doing. I knew exactly the time and place it was happening.
The language is lovely, once you understand it. The descriptions are seemingly in a foreign language, but they are in English. It's just the way the words are put together that makes the familiar seem new and foreign. The entire time I read this novel I could only think of barren, windswept, bleak landscapes. A small town of only a few buildings. The men made their living by fishing. A sense of foreboding always hung over the story like you knew that something terrible would happen, you were just waiting for it.
It did feel longish to me, but then I don't know what part I would have cut out. It was all so necessary to the story. That may have just been me. I enjoyed it very much especially that there was a little secret revealed at the end. Even old Misskaella had a few secrets up her sleeves.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone that enjoys historical novels, mermaid/selkie/siren tales. It's definitely PG. I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley for review from Random House Publishers.
This in no way influenced my review. I was not compensated for my review.