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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 February 2012
Margo Lanagan's Brides of Rollrock Island began its life as one story among several in the collection Sea-Hearts. Now it is expanded and the results are wondrous. With the most beautiful prose, Margo Lanagan transports us to an island, a little timeless, on which men live with their silky-haired, large-eyed wives. There are no daughters, just boys, all of whom love their graceful mams, and this relationship between the men of the island and their enchanting women gives life to the heart of this novel.

The men of the island have turned their backs on the local red-haired fiery, spirited women. Instead, Misskaella, the island's sea-witch, has offered each of them the gift of naming the women that she can draw out from their seal skins. The price is great, huge debt ensues, but the prize is a non-questioning and loving wife who, deprived of her locked away sealskin, is unable to leave the land and her man. These women have to suffer the double pain of losing their seal children and their human daughters. Their husbands are too enraptured to help but their sons are a different matter.

The Brides of Rollrock Island is told by a succession of different narrators, covering two or three generations and regularly referring backwards. The most dominant figure on the island is Misskaella who has ensnared the husbands and terrified the sons. But this menacing witch who knits seaweed on the beach has her own story and this forms a substantial part of the tale. This is one of the true strengths of the novel. The witch we see later on, ugly and predatory, was once a young girl we empathised with, the smallest daughter among many in a family that loved her. But from the moment that she discovered that she could charm seals from the seas, she couldn't live a normal life again. We see both - the young and the old - and that brings another very human dimension to a tale of witches, seals and enthralled men.

The island is timeless. There is little reference to events or things that could date it. It could also be anywhere. The red-haired women on the mainland know about the men on the island - it doesn't seem much of a secret - and the sons are accepted as being part land part sea. While some men stay true to the red-haired women, the majority have no power to resist at all. The problem is, though, that Misskaella has warned them all of the high price they must pay, and this doesn't necessarily refer to money.

The language of The Brides of Rollrock Island is beautiful. The stories are distinct but flow from one to the other. The selkies are enchanting but the human women are full of life. There are moments of wonder here - the boys swimming through the sea, forgetting their human lives, to name just one. Despite the heartache, the worry and the loss, one abiding feeling to emerge from The Brides of Rollrock Island is the power for love.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
What interested me most about The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan was that it was about selkies. I haven't read any books about selkies, so I was prepared to learn and be amazed. It took me a short while to get into the story because of little things like unusual names and time jumps, but when I did get used to it, I found it atmospheric, moving and rich in detail.

The Brides of Rollrock Island spans three generations and follows five characters. I really enjoyed Lanagan's descriptions of Rollrock Island as it sounds so wild, untamed and mythical. The wonderful descriptions of setting reminded me of Guy de Maupassant's A Vendetta. The transformation scenes from seal to woman are highly memorable too.

The story centres on a witch called Misskaella for the first third of the book. Her life isn't a happy one as she is the black sheep of her family and treated as an outsider by the community. She's constantly teased about her looks and her affinity to the seals that come to Rollrock Island.

One day Misskaella discovers that she is able to draw women out of seals. These selkie women are so fantastically beautiful that soon the men start to reject earthly women in favour of selkie women and here, much to Misskaella's happiness, is where the tragedy begins.

I felt really sorry for Misskaella as she was mistreated and ignored. I supported her when she wanted to get her own back of the inhabitants of Rollrock Island. Of course, when I read the story from other people's points of view, my support wavered.

I really wanted to read a part of the story from the point of view of a selkie wife, however, the closest I got to one was reading the point of view of her son and her husband. This definitely helped to keep up the mystery of the selkie.

The Brides of Rollrock Island has some great twists that I didn't see coming. While I did think some parts weren't necessary to the story, overall, I was highly satisfied with it. Margo Lanagan writes with flair and I am looking forward to reading more from her. I loved learning about selkies and would recommend this to those wishing to do the same.
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The Brides of Rollrock Island is one of those stories that needs to be read more than once to really appreciate it. With the exception of one character each chapter is narrated by someone new and the book follows three generations.

Margo Lanagan writing is stunning, it's very visual and atmospheric. Picturing Rollrock Island or the individual narrators throughout this tale is easy, yet The Brides of Rollrock Island is not a quick read. Because of the in-depth storytelling and all those intricate details that are woven together you have to focus on each chapter closely.

As well as the writing the story of Rollrock Island challenges you. The sea-wives Misskaella brings forth for the men of Rollrock are beautiful, docile and everything they could desire. Yet if their seal-skin isn't hidden they will return to the sea. Just as there are different characters narrating throughout so there are countless ways of looking at this story. Endless layers for the reader to explore, think about and most likely never to decide on.

The Brides of Rollrock Island is a very complex and deeply fascinating fantasy story that will stay with you long after the last page is read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I love a book that takes me on a journey and that's something that Margo Lanagan always does in her own special way. Here we get all the attributes that have made her a known author wrapped up with the ancient myths about the selkie bride. It is clever, it has some magical sleight of hand alongside twisting the readers expectations. Add to this great prose, top notch characters and an overall arc that makes you believe in the concept that Margo is selling, makes this a cracking start to a new series.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2012
While not completely knowledgeable about selkies, it's is a myth I've always been interested in. For those that don't know, selkies are the Scottish legends about seals that shed their skin to become beautiful women. If you hide their skin, they cannot return to the water and must stay on land until they can reclaim it. Although Margo Lanagan never mentions the word selkies, it's clear that this is what the women in The Brides of Rollrock Island are based upon.

For me, it wasn't the selkie-wives themselves that captured my attention - it was the effect that this selfish scheme had on the island itself. As soon as Able Marten convinces the witch to bring him a seal for a wife, every warm-blooded male on Rollrock wants one for himself - even the ones who have wives already. Eventually the human women are all replaced and leave for the mainland as they realise they can never compete with the lovely women that come from the sea. Soon there are no human females left and mainlanders are warned to never set foot on Rollrock. It changes the island completely and it's fascinating to watch.

It's told from multiple perspectives, so you can see the dilemma from all sides. This switches over five or six times, from the sea-witch herself to the son of one of the seal-maidens. I'm not normally a fan of multi-perspective stories, but it really does works in this book. It tends to change over just as you start to feel comfortable with a character, but you've forgotten your irritation within a few pages and you get drawn into the new character's thoughts.

The timeline also changes as the narrative moves back and forth - another thing that I usually don't like, but only adds to the flow in this case. It spans multiple generations, but it's never difficult to work out where you are in the story or who the person talking actually is.

It's just beautiful. From the sea-maidens' transformation right down to their homesickness, everything is tasteful, wonderful and never feels at all silly. It's definitely a young adult book and I couldn't ever really forget that, but it's a wonderful story.

Apparently The Brides of Rollrock Island was originally part of an Australian short story collection called Sea Hearts. Honestly, if I'd have read that before picking up the book, I might have stayed away - short stories are usually nowhere near as effective when turned into a novel. I have to say though, this works very well. It's more of a collection of inter-related stories than a novel, but it's a fascinating look at the selkie myth.
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on 12 March 2014
As a traditional storyteller of some 25 years experience, with a particular interest in seal maiden stories, I think this is a superb book. Apart from my specific interest in the content, the writing is amongst the best that I can remember in modern literature. Another strength of the work is in how it is set so convincingly in a time within touching distance of our own. It shows how enduring myths are the very bones of contemporary cultural issues and evokes the very elements to shape our inner world
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on 1 June 2013
Just brilliant. Lanagan is the master of mystical Celtic writings and this book enslaved me, much like the poor doomed men of Rollrock. I smelt the sea, saw the seal-wives pale skin and the helplessness of the husbands. If you enjoy stories that cannot be entirely categorised into neat genres then check this out. Just brilliant, individual and utterly visceral.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2012
Wonderful writing as usual from Langan, but the characters themselves left me feeling uneasy so I didn't love this as much as some of her other books. Still more than worth a read.
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