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The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (thoughts)

November 28, 2012

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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2012 6:44 am

    “Even when they’re at their most petty or cruel or selfish, they have so much humanity that I couldn’t help loving them.”

    Yes, exactly. I knew you’d love this <3

  2. November 28, 2012 9:17 am

    Dang. I had this in my hand at the library the other day and now wished I’d snagged it. Suddenly I feel the urge to retrace my steps and see if the copy is still there…

  3. jeanlp permalink
    November 28, 2012 10:16 am

    Ooh, this has been on my wishlist for ages. Maybe I can find a copy now!

  4. November 28, 2012 12:44 pm

    I loved this one as well! It was my first experience reading Lanagan and it convinced me to try to pick up her other works as quickly as possible.

  5. November 28, 2012 7:19 pm

    Hi Eva, if ever you want a book from Australia that you cannot get in USA like this one let me know and I can post a copy to you. Especially if it is one you really want!! Nothing worse than hanging out for a favourite author. Pam

  6. November 28, 2012 7:53 pm

    This is such a good book. I read it twice and I still can’t write about it just yet.

  7. December 1, 2012 5:49 pm

    Despite a great deal of enthusiasm from the blogosphere, I haven’t read Margo Lanagan yet. Tender Morsels looks too upsetting for me. I have less and less tolerance for rape in books, even though I know Margo Lanagan handles it really well. So hah! I shall read this instead.

  8. December 4, 2012 12:54 pm

    Glad you enjoyed this one, and your enthusiasm, along with Heather’s, is enough to make me give Tender Morsels another go!

  9. January 6, 2013 9:36 am

    I really want to read this one. It’s just come out here in hardcover. I’m debating trying to read it in that format, or waiting for the softcover so I can buy it….your review is so good that I think I need to read it sooner rather than later, Eva. Intelligent fairy tales are rare, and this one sounds like it is filled with things to ponder. I’m excited now :-)


  1. The Literary Horizon: The Brides of Rollrock Island « The Literary Omnivore

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