Brides of Rollrock Island By Margo Lanagan

Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. But Rollrock is also a place of magic. Down on the windswept beach the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells - and brings forth girls from the sea - the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen have ever seen. But magic always has its price.

The novel spans several generations, with the desires of the inhabitants of Rollrock Island explored through a series of episodes, each one taking a different protagonist. We start with a short tale from young Daniel Mallett, as he and his friends carefully avoid Misskaella Prout. Why? Because she is a witch. The second story is Misskaella's own, as we travel back to her youth, and see how she became the shunned and sorry old bag that she now is, reviled by the people of Rollrock and yet in great demand, by the men of the island at least, for she has the power to summon beautiful, compliant, marriageable young women from inside the seals who cluster on the island's beaches.
It's these mermaids, or to be more accurate in folkloric terms, selkies, who, though themselves pliable and willing, cause all sorts of troubles for the islanders. For once Able Marten gets himself a lithe and long-limbed bride, every other man on the island wants the same. Of course, there is a price to pay for these Stepford Wives: first of all, the vast sum of money Misskaella demands from each desperate man, causing poverty and deception. But it is in the end the human cost, as wives are spurned, fleeing to the mainland with their children, which begins to seed a terrible inheritance. It is this, as we return to where we started, that Daniel will seek to address.
It's in this section of the novel that Lanagan does her finest work, describing the boys of the island, who are all, by now, half-human, half-selkie. Lanagan's prose is always a joy; it's often surprising and yet always familiar, for she is confident swimming in the archetypes of folklore and fairytale. As she paints images for us of Daniel's brief life under the waves as a seal, she shows writing of the highest order: subtle, powerful, poetic.

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