Monday, 25 February 2013
Review: Sea Hearts By Margo Lanagan
Like the men of Rollrock Island, Sea Hearts has me enchanted by selkies. I didn't know a great deal about the mythology going into this book, but the story of Rollrock Island and its inhabitants, whose relationship with the selkies is fraught with obsession, possession and heartbreak, captured my fascination and left me wanting so much more. While the mythology itself is interesting, it's the wonderful way Margo Lanagan expands on it and builds her world around it that makes Sea Hearts truly magical.
Rollrock Island is an isolated, wind-swept, sea-drenched setting that is powerfully evoked through Lanagan's beautiful writing. She will make you actually feel the damp air, smell the salty ocean and taste the sea-heart delicacies. Not to mention all the emotions - from wonder to fury to heartbreak, you're fully immersed in the feelings of the characters, leaving your heart raw and exposed, but ultimately satisfied.
The story is told from multiple perspectives across generations. The first part focuses on Misskaella, the witch who can transform seals into humans. We learn why she's determined to give all the men on Rollrock Island "sea wives", and it's quite a heart-wrenching journey, although it also has some magical and delightful moments. Of course, it's not spoiling anything to say she doesn't exactly have a happy ending (the book opens with her as an old woman), and her bitterness has devastating consequences for everyone, as the subsequent chapters, telling the stories of the women and men from two of the Rollrock families, reveal.
While Misskaella's section was a highlight, my favourite part of the book was probably Daniel's. As the son of a Rollrock man and a sea wife, he's torn between wanting his family together and wanting his mother to be happy. What he does to make things right is powerful, rendered especially so through Lanagan's stunning language and imagery. As awful as it is, I have to say I felt kinda gleeful at the comeuppance the men of the island got for their sexist, possessive selfishness.
Sea Hearts explores some pretty significant themes - love, passion, grief, revenge, obsession and even gender roles. It's intense, but never too heavy. Lanagan's beautiful way with words, elegant plot structure, whimsical world-building and remarkable cast of characters weave together to form a breathtaking book that I think everbody should read.
This Q&A with Lanagan about the book is fascinating. I can't believe she got the idea for the story from something as simple as knitting a scarf!
Published: February 2012, Allen & Unwin
Get It: Bookworld