This isn’t on my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, but what the hey.
By Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2012, ISBN: 978 1 74237 505 2
THIS delightful novel began life as a novella of the same name, in the rather clever novella anthology X6 (Coeur de Lion), and that novella forms the mainstay of this longer work. It’s an interesting read, the narrative strung together by a series of first-person narratives revealing how life on the island of Rollrock went through some amazing changes: the why, the how, the thereafter.
The short version: a witch finds revenge for being the subject of derision when she discovers the power to pull people out of seals. The women so brought forth are rather delectable, moreso than the common weather-beaten and life-worn specimens already available. The island’s menfolk are happy to pay for the privilege of a seal wife, a fairly docile offsider amenable to performing all the household chores and breed some sons as well.
In a kind of flip on the Lesbos tale, the women leave the men to their magical arrangement and the witch grows rich.
I’m not entirely convinced I needed to read the before and after, the novella having proven quite enchanting in and of itself, but the opportunity to do so shouldn’t be missed. The novel is most enjoyable and provides a possibly more evenly rounded tale centred around that core; the set-up providing more insight and the denouement given more time to breathe.
And then there’s Lanagan’s wonderful prose, her playful way of recasting words and phrases, and describing things afresh. (See Sean the Bookonaut’s review for more on this.)
This is a gently told fantasy, presented unusually and quite beautifully in this Allen & Unwin paperback version, with a rather horrible narrative kernel.
Several reviews have convinced me to add this to my reading list. Thanks for sharing yours!
It really is a most wonderful book. Are you adding it to your AWW list?
Great review. I had this book on my to read list already because it’s Margo Lanagan, but other than “selkies” I didn’t really know what it was about. Thanks!
Cheers, Tsana. I realise now that ‘selkies’ is a word I somehow failed to mention in the review, so thanks! You might also enjoy Swim the Moon by Paul Brandon, a great selkie tale with a grand conclusion.
Great review Jason. Looking forward to reading this one – if only I could make a dent in my reading pile.
Cheers, Mark; I share your pain!
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