Sea Hearts (The Brides of Rollrock Island)

The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first encountered the selkie legend in the Irish-American film, The Secret of Roan Innish (Sayles 1994). The notion of seal brides all seemed terribly magical and romantic, if ultimately sad. Remembering this film was part of what attracted me to Sea Hearts (The Brides of Rollrock Island); I was intrigued to learn more about these curious brides who emerge from the sea to bear the children of men, only to become increasingly forlorn for their sea lives, land-bound as long as they are separated from their skins.

Reading Lanagan’s interpretation of the selkie legend, I found myself thinking about the origins of this fantastical creature. Was it first offered as an explanation for an unexpected dark-eyed child to hide the sin of adultery? To explain a wife’s desertion of an unhappy marriage? What are the stories of migration, slavery, and inter-racial liaisons that gave rise to selkie lore? Lanagan’s story doesn’t openly engage with any of the questions I’ve posed here, however it does pursue a story through the selkie legend that I found equally intriguing.

Miskaella is a misshapen and outcast child from a large family. While her family take turns to taunt and shun her, the old folk in the Rollrock community recognise and fear her affinity with the island’s seal population. As Miskaella comes of age and understands she is condemned to a single life, she decides to exploit her ability to summon the seals to secure her fortune and status by procuring wives for the island’s men.

Miskaella’s story is the beginning of a curve on a spiral of selkie legend, a tale of four generations of the Rollrock community that explores the lot of women as spinsters, mothers, wives, and daughters across the ages. It is sad, thought-provoking, beautiful, and hopeful.

I listened to the Bolinda/ABC audiobook edition, read just wonderfully by Eloise Oxer and Paul English.

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About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

3 responses to “Sea Hearts (The Brides of Rollrock Island)

  • Lizzy/Elizabeth

    Fascinating and thoughtful review, Kirsty. I loved this book with a passion and I’d enjoy hearing it read – especially having just heard your wonderful reading of Barbara Baynton’s A Dreamer. I may be an audio book convert yet!

  • Kirsty

    I’m glad you enjoyed the review and my recording, Elizabeth 🙂 My own experience with audiobooks is that they require a different kind of concentration, and a great reader/story teller can make all the difference. I really thought Eloise Oxer, in particular, was just terrific here. I’m thinking of listening to more of her recordings. I loved the way she conveyed the mischievousness of the children, as well as the cunning of Miskaella. But of course, she had fantastic material to work with too!

    • Lizzy/Elizabeth

      I’m sure the reader’s voice makes a lot of difference. There is so much that goes into it – timbre, phrasing, rhythm, articulation. I’m in awe of the work you’ve done, Kirsty. It’s such a great gift!

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