Lanagan, M. (2012). The brides of Rollrock Island. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN: 9780857560339
Annotation: After being mistreated her entire life, Misskaella discovers the magic to bringing humans out of seals, and she makes bargains with the men of Rollrock Island to give them seal wives.
Reaction: I really love Margo Lanagan. She’s got a great storytelling voice, and this really beautiful, descriptive prose that is magical and wonderful. A previous novel of hers, Tender Morsels, was involved in the early 2011 Bitch Media Book List kerfluffle. That book was beautiful and poignant and a little heartbreaking and made me want to read more of Lanagan.
This book did not disappoint. Lanagan tells this story through six different narrators, over the course of two generations. Through these narrators, which include Misskaella (the witch), one of the daughters who abandons the island after the seal wives arrive, and a seal son, the reader is given the full account of what happened on Rollrock Island. I love that Lanagan includes Misskaella’s perspective, in addition to other townsfolk. She makes the witch a sympathetic character and as much a protagonist as any of the other narrators, so that even when the other narrators describe her cruelty and humiliation of everyone, the reader doesn’t forget how Misskaella came to that place. It creates tension as the reader tries to reconcile the girl who suffered with the witch who causes suffering.
This is a book for teenagers and lovers of folktales. Lanagan examines the animal nature within humans and the consequences when someone binds the two natures together. She tells the story of how a community can be torn apart and then rebuilt stronger than before.
I loved this book. I love selkie stories; they’re not used overly often in literature, so it’s always fun for me to read a new selkie perspective, and Lanagan gives readers a really beautiful, heartbreaking one. She takes that folktale and looks at it from all angles, creating really complex characters. Her writing is haunting and really sticks with me even after I finish reading.
The novella “Sea-Hearts,” the Australian published story which was expanded into The Brides of Rollrock Island, won the 2010 World Fantasy Award for novella.