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Friday, December 21, 2012

MICHELLE'S REVIEW: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Title: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Format Acquired: Hardcover 
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Publishing House: Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9780375869198
Source of Copy: Purchased from Fully Booked


On remote  Rollrock Island,  men make their living - and fetch their wives - from the sea.

The witch Misskaella  knows how to find the girl at the heart of a seal. She'll coax a beauty from the beast for any man, for a price. And what man wouldn't want a sea-wife, to have and to hold, and to keep by his side forever?

But though he may tell himself that he is the master, one look is his new bride's eyes will transform him just as much as it changes her. Both will be ensnared - and the witch will look on, laughing.

In this magical, seaswept novel, Margo Lanagan tells an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also of unspoken love.

(Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book) 


As soon as I closed the book, all I could think of was, "Good God - did the author's parents force-feed her poetry book after poetry book?" When I was engrossed in the short stories (Yes, it's a collection of short stories. I was surprised too.), it felt like I was actually on the ethereal island, commiserating and celebrating with the characters of the novel. When they felt, I felt more, and there could possibly be no greater anguish than the fact that what these characters shared with the readers, they couldn't - and didn't! - share with the inhabitants of Rollrock Island. 

When I first spotted this on GoodReads, I jabbed a finger at my computer screen and boldly proclaimed, "Now that is a book that could take me away for a while." And I was right. (I'm rarely right, as attested by the fact that a lot of the books that have low ratings on this site are mostly mine.) The Brides of Rollrock Island did not just take me away; the imagery was wonderfully vivid, the words were delicate and harsh at the same time, and the storyline was both refreshing and sensual. 
We passed between the Heads, the rocks piled like messy gateposts either side of us, the swell making the ship restless. The sun came out like a cheer, and the water was the loveliest color, bright blue-green, and the foam curled like cream on some of the waves. The Heads fell behind, and there was nothing but sky and sea ahead of us, and each one's weather. The towns and farms and all their fuss and clutter of memories, I was shrugging them off like a heavy cloak, and sailing free. (278)
It is here we meet our characters, most of whom Lanagan does not spare in fleshing out, like the crafty storyteller that she is. Lanagan's characters are very real, very much alive, and I couldn't help but be swayed by the emotions and the inner turmoil her characters face. It did not matter whether the protagonist was selkie or human or witch, the honest words that come pouring out of their mouth will ring true in any reader's heart. 
"Yes, but only because... Down there, you see, I did not care and I did not feel. Whereas here-" I laid my head on my arms; he would only have been able to see the rounded-over back of me beyond the table now. "Here it is all feeling and caring, and it makes me so tired." (271)
If Lanagan's selkies can lure the men, her hauntingly decadent writing can very well lure me into the sea. Fans of Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races will undoubtedly want to pick up this book. 


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