I am reading through the Stella Prize Longlist from 2013 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2014. The list can be found here and my Like a House on Fire review is here.
I haven’t read much in the way of young adult literature and had assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that YA books would be more about plot and less character. This book has certainly disabused me of that notion. This is one of those books that is so good you want to recommend it to all your friends.
Using the myth of selkies, it tells the tale of successive inhabitants of a small, remote island called Rollrock and explores human frailty in all its guises. The writing is so evocative you can clearly see the island in your mind’s eye. The inhabitants are easily imagined and the way of life described at once alien but also familiar even though I have never lived in such a place. I think part of the power of Lanagan’s writing is making something out of your experience relatable.
I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have a time machine to go back and give this book to my teenage self to read because I would have loved to know what I would have thought back then. Reading it now as an adult was really enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t help feeling that I brought my own baggage with me when reading in a way that I couldn’t have done as a teen. Please, don’t let that stop you reading this book though.
What I really liked is that Lanagan didn’t try and make this an easy read, some of the concepts are pretty full on. But the trust she has in her readers is clear and she writes with confidence that they will understand and get something out of her writing. I will be buying a copy for my kids to read when they are older, and for me to re-read again and again. I don’t think it would be easy to take an old myth and make it new again, but Sea Hearts (or The Brides of Rollrock Island) does exactly that.
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