The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (thoughts)
I adore Margo Lanagan, both for Tender Morsels (which makes the short list of books I found truly life-changing, and is thus one that I don’t feel able to do justice to on the blog) and her previous short story collections, which I’ve been spacing out so that I don’t run out too quickly. Her writing is always sharply vivid, with emotions so genuine I live them all even as her characters do. She’s not afraid of diving into life’s messy bits and looking at those complicated, oh-so-human problems that don’t seem to have an easy solution, including many questions of gender. And she creates a fairy tale sensibility that I find simply irresistible. As you might imagine, I was terribly jealous of all of my Australian and British blogging friends, who got to read her latest novel (published variously as Sea Hearts or The Brides of Rollrock Island) ages before me, and I consoled myself by stalking Netgalley on an almost daily basis to see if it was available. In the end, it was the lovely Ana who alerted me to its presence, and I clicked ‘request’ with bated breath. Never was an approval e-mail more celebrated, and I suspect I broke new records in the speed with which I downloaded a copy, transferred it to my Nook, and curled up in my chair.
I was not disappointed. From the first page of The Brides of Rollrock Island I was completely lost in Lanagan’s creation, a world of selkies and fishermen, of village and ocean, and individual choices that collectively reverberate down multiple generations. The narrative alters between different characters and times, each speaking in a convincingly different first-person voice (regular readers know this is one of my bugbears). The nonlinear order of the story just enhances its complexities and layers; Lanagan expertly unfurls the plot while never losing the depth of her characters. And oh these characters. Heirs to the Greek tragic hero (and heroine), my heart broke for them all at some point. Even when they’re at their most petty or cruel or selfish, they have so much humanity that I couldn’t help loving them.
Sadly, my typing constraints prevent me from really delving into this novel and engaging with it as it deserves (I shall cheat and direct you to Ana’s wonderful analysis instead). Suffice it to say that The Brides of Rollrock Island was intellectually stimulating as well as soul satisfying, and it’s a book I highly recommend to everyone, whether they’re regular fantasy readers or not (ignore the children’s label, which is spectacularly misapplied). It’s not everyday that a literary, lyrical, and deeply true novel comes along; this is one to savour.