Review Blog

Aug 19 2013

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781742375052.
UK title: The Brides of Rollrock Island, David Fickling Books, 2012.
(Age 15+) Highly recommended. CBCA Winner Older readers, 2013, Ditmar Award for Best Novel (2013), Aurealis Award Nominee for Young Adult Novel (2012), Norma K Hemming Award (2013). Rollrock Island is a small remote community where seals frequent the beaches. Strange stories are secretly told of witches who have power over the seals and of seal wives, beautiful women whose seal skins have been stolen and who have married the fishermen on the island. Misskaella is a tiny young girl, who is bullied by the island children and overlooked by the young men. When she discovers that she has the power to give the young men the seal bride that they so desire, the consequences of this choice are far reaching.
Lanagan has taken this old Celtic folk tale and teased out the emotions that face everyone when a young man buys himself an irresistible sea-wife. Told from different viewpoints the reader is taken along on a journey of desire, revenge, of loyalty and love and of longing for the sea. The feelings of the husbands who are so attracted to the seal women that they hide their skins where the women can't find them are explored as well as the fathers who mourn for their daughters who don't thrive on land and must be returned to the sea. So are the feelings of the offspring, the young boys who know how much their mams love them but how much they long for the sea and the women who are abandoned by their husbands for the sea wives. Even Misskaella's fate and grief as a result of her meetings with the seal king is described poignantly although the reader can have little sympathy for her manipulation of everyone's feelings as she relentlessly pursues her revenge on the islanders.
This is beautifully written and rich tale that vividly showcases the beauty and darkness of Lanagan's prose. The setting of Rollrock Island sings to the reader, who can almost smell the sea water and easily imagines the rocks, the fishing village and the isolation of the community.
Sea hearts is a story for the mature, imaginative reader who will find much to stimulate discussion and thought in its themes and authorship.
Pat Pledger

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