Friday, September 21, 2012

Rollrock Island, by Margo Lanagan: Your momma's a seaweed lovin seal!

The Brides of Rollrock Island
by Margo Lanagan
Alfred Knopf BFYR, 2012
ISBN: 9780375869198

“Seals do not sit about and tell, the way people do, and their lives are not eventful in the way that peoples are, lines of story combed out again and again, in the hope that they will yield more sense with every stroke.” (p. 255).  Old Celtic fables tell of Selkies - seals who shed their skins and walk on land as people.  On Rollrock Island, the tales are part of island life.  Miskaella, a young girl, realizes there is truth behind the legends when she wakes one day with the power to lure seals from the sea, and eventually even the ability to call the bewitching selkies from their seal-skins.  Cruelly treated and branded a witch for her abilities by other villagers, Miskaella grows frustrated and contemptous from their mistreatment, vowing her revenge.  One by one, the men of Rollrock abandon the island women in favor of the mysterious seal-women Miskaella calls forth from the sea, paying her dearly for it.  The human female population of Rollrock abandons the island for the mainland, leaving it to the men, boys, and Selkie women, who long, silently to return to the ocean.  The sons of these women are not immune to this sadness in their mothers; they hatch a plan to return the skins to their mothers, who weave sea-skins of their own to bring their sons with them when they return to the sea.  This is a richly wrought and haunting tale, with beautiful descriptive language.  Though marketed as YA, it will find more success with adult readers who won’t be deterred by the alternating perspectives, sense that questions are left unanswered, and the serious tone.  

Hello, you had me at selkie.  No, seriously.  That’s why I requested and then raced through this one.  Plus, it sounds slightly more exciting in the publisher press then it actually is - it’s rather more of a slow paced, methodically haunting tale.  In a way, I really liked this.  In another way, I really was less satisfied with it when I finished it than I had been while reading it, if that makes any sense at all.  I loved the selkies and the myth-made-real nature of this story...but it didn’t entirely add up, for me (the story does wrap itself up, and hopefully).  I wanted to know if Miskaella was actually content, or why none of the Selkie mom’s tried to figure out where their seal-skins were, or...just more.  I think it would have helped to have one pov from one of the selkies, since we seemed to hear from a representative of every other faction (Miskaella, dudes paying her to get them a sea-order bride, the scored non-sea order brides, the kids,  etc.).  Again, I do believe that this is a book with far more adult appeal than teen appeal - I just plain think adults will connect with it better.  I’m not even sure what, if anything, makes it fall into the YA family.  There are as many, if not more, adult voices than teen/youth voices.  Does ….anticipate that more adult readers will just buy it if it is marketed as YA, since adults are buying more YA?  If so, good call.  Anyways, you can read this book if you like Celtic mythology, but then again, if time is an issue, just watch The Secret of Roan Innish.  And then let’s all go have a whiskey and talk about whether or not a grown lady could actual fit inside a seal skin.  My vote: no. Also, fish breath.  

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