Reviewed by Louise Wykes
What happens when magic collides with reality?
Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous ...and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives - not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?
Based on the legend of the selkies - seals who can transform into people - Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice.
I have to confess I am not a huge fan of magical realism in general, I prefer my books to lean more towards the realism rather than the magical side of things but I have to say this compact yet powerful novel has taken me into a new and different realm which I found simply enchanting.
Donald is a young fisherman who lives an isolated life as a fisherman on a remote Scottish island with his mother. Donald hides from even the sparse society on the island and seems completely mystified by any social interaction and seems to find solace when he is out on the open sea. On one evening when he is alone on his rowing boat he witnesses a magical event when he sees a group of seals swim up to the island, thinking they are alone, and shed their seal skins and before Donald’s amazed eyes, transform into young women and frolic about enjoying the new sensations of life on legs and on land. Seeing the enchantment and wonder of innocent young maidens, Donald makes an irreversible decision to take one of the maidens and claim her as his own. It is a decision that will have far-reaching consequences for all involved.
I was absolutely entranced by the magical world created by the author in this book and even though I was ill when I read (devoured) this book, it completely transported me into the raw, beautiful and natural world of Donald and the young girl who begins to transform his life and his character. I didn’t want to leave the universe that the author had created in such powerful and descriptive prose that sometimes made me just pause to re-read a sentence.
This book is unlike anything I have ever read, so graceful, so profound and a testament to the power of love, even without words. This isn’t simply a book, it’s a life-changing experience. Simply magnificent.