Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
Going into this story, I was intrigued by the idea of selkies (as I always am! The one "supernatural" storyline I still can't get enough of) and the island setting (I LOVE island settings). Those factors alone did not prepare me for just how much I enjoyed The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan. While I haven't read too many of Langan's stories (I struggled through Tender Morsels) this book won me over.

Synopsis: On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings—and to catch their wives.

The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment. (

There is a lot of sadness in this story. It pervades the story and really sets the tone for how the events of Rollrock Island will unfurl. Of course, given that it is impossible to be happy when you have no free choice, what would one expect but sadness? The men are sad beings, people that both repulsed me and that I pitied. They were seeking a mirage, this image of a woman only to realize that they were never going to capture her, never hold her in the way they wanted. After all, what they are doing to these seal-women is holding them hostage. In the hearts of these women, all they want is to escape, even as they raise children with these men.

I truly believe Misskaella, the witch of the island, might not have turned out so embittered, angry and malcontent if the citizenry of Rollrock did not continually abuse her and disappoint her. She is raised in an environment where she is looked upon as not thin enough, not pretty enough, not ENOUGH for the men of Rollrock. (Does this sound familiar at all?) It is no wonder Misskaella embraces the power she does have to find control on her tiny island home. (I would never say happiness because it is clear as you get to know Misskaella that she is not happy, far from it).

The island life comes alive also. In the same way that Maggie Stiefvater made the island of Thisby so very compelling and real to me in The Scorpio Races or to a lesser extent, how romance author Nora Roberts brought to life Three Sisters Island in her Three Sisters trilogy, Rollrock brims with life. From the local grocer to the cracks and crevices of nature. I will say, the island increasingly starts to feel small and oppressed as the story continues, as new generations are raised on Rollrock. It is not always a place of wonder and enchantment.

Perhaps the true star of this book is the language. Margo Lanagan is easily one of literary young adult's star authors. The language in this book is rich and silky. It envelops your mind making you want to re-read sentences over and over to get the full taste of them, to examine just what Lanagan is saying. The Brides of Rollrock Island came together for me in a way that Tender Morsels did not: the language, the setting and the characters themselves all rolled together so well and sat in my mind as I read. I did not feel disconnected from any angle of this story. Here are some of my favorite passages from the book:

"How different other families were, the shape of them, the things they presumed, the children that grew up in them." (lost page number here, sorry folks) (This quote REALLY resonated with me because I have often thought the same thing as I have observed families I worked with and just my friends growing up.)

"Then the water, and the magic, overtook me, and what was seal of me supplanted what was boy. i ceased to think and to intend or decide, in any way that makes sense in a story, but only followed my mam, crying after her into our dark world, alive to the tides now and the temperatures. I sought the bubbling trail of her with my whiskers and went after it, to the depths and wonders and fellows and foes disposed on all sides of us, and before us, and below." (p. 253)

"One by one all the marriageable boys claimed or were claimed by the girls who flirted or looked cheerful, or were only slender and unobjectionable, while I remianed like one of the Skittles rocks, a crag in the midst of the moving sea, marking the points on which no sensible man, no man with any prospects, would compromise." (p. 57)

There are multiple narrators in this story and each stands out even if he or she only narrates for a brief time.

This is not a conventional YA book by any means. There is a more adult feel to it but there is a lot to be enjoyed by older teen readers, think the eighteen, nineteen year olds who are searching for a more mature story. I love the cover art and I just fell hard for the book. It's one of the few I'm buying a finished copy of because I want to re-read it, to examine the lovely prose, and to revel in the way Lanagan plays with the selkie mythology.

If you're looking for something different than the tepid and standard YA fare that has been published this year, I would heartily suggest The Brides of Rollrock Island which is available now.

Other reviews:
A Striped Armchair reviews The Brides of Rollrock Island reviews The Brides of Rollrock Island
The Readventurer reviews The Brides of Rollrock Island


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