The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan.
Published February 12, 2012.
Published by Knopf BYR.
On remote Rollrock Island, men make their living--and fetch their wives--from the sea.
The Witch Misskaella knows how to find the girl at the heart of a seal. She'll coax a beauty from the beast for any man, for a price. And what man wouldn't want a sea-wife, to and to hold, and to keep by his side forever?
But though he may tell himself that he is the master, one look in his new bride's eyes will transform him just as much as it changes her. Both will be ensnared--and the witch will look on, laughing.
In this magical, seaswept novel, Margo Lanagan tells an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also of unspoken love.
I'm sad to say that I was really disappointed by this one. It got a little better as it went on, but had I not been reading it for a book club challenge, I would have put it down after about 30 pages. It started of way too slow for me. There were many, many times I just felt like abandoning it. It is split into multiple shorter stories that all tie together, told from different people's points of view, and I even had trouble getting through the first two. I felt there were too many characters in them and I didn't feel like I was really following along.
Also disappointing for me was that her writing style didn't work for me. It reminded me in many ways of Maggie Stiefvater's in The Scorpio Races, except that I devoured Maggie's and felt it in my heart, whereas Margo's while often beautiful and poetic, felt disconnected and cold. It wasn't as clear or as moving as Maggie's was to me, so I kept comparing and being let down. I even had trouble picturing the scenes described. I so wanted to see them, but I just couldn't. 35 pages of the story felt like 100, so it was rough reading.
One of the most important characters, Misskaella, has a long section for her narration, and she describes that she has a sad life when she is young, but I never cared enough about her to feel bad. She got a little more interesting when she had some fire in her heart, but her story had already lost me long ago by that point, and there was no getting me back. I only really cared at all about two of the stories told: Bet's and Dominic's. In both of these, I only cared for select characters (Bet, her mother, and her step-sister in the first, and Kitty in the second), and these characters were the ones who had their lives shattered by Misskaella and the sea-wives she conjures. That was all that really got to me from the entire book.
I really wanted to love these stories because I loved the idea of them, but all except four characters out of dozens refused to connect with me, unfortunately, and the idea of the sea-wives was not played out in a way I enjoyed at all. I wanted so much more from the book.