I first read Margo Lanagan a few years ago, when Garth Nix pressed a copy of her short story collection Black Juice upon me at a writer’s conference. ‘You must read this,’ he said.
‘But I really don’t like short stories,’ I said.
‘You’ll like these,’ he answered. And he was right. One of the stories in particular really haunted me – ‘Singing My Sister Down’ was a strange, dark, heartbreaking and yet beautiful story which recounts the last hours in the life of a young woman condemned to death by drowning in a tar pool. We don’t know where or when the story is set, and we only gradually learn some of the reason why. What is striking about the story is the language, which was so unlike anything else I had ever read I was mesmerised. Margo Lanagan’s voice was bold, inventive, and filled with mystery.
I loved it.
So did the rest of the world. Black Juice ended up being a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, winning two World Fantasy Awards, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, a Golden Aurealis Award, and a Bram Stoker Award nomination.
So when I heard a few years later that Margo had written a novel, I was keen to read it. My interest sharpened when I learned that it was a retelling of the ‘Snow White and Rose Red’ fairy tale. You all know how much I love fairy tale retellings!
I finally read her novel Tender Morsels last year (about three years after it came out) and this is how I reviewed it:
This is a truly extraordinary book, and one that lingers in the mind for a long time afterwards. The language is astonishingly good – bold, original, unexpected – and the story itself takes all kinds of surprising directions ... It’s only occasionally that I finish a book with a real sense of awe, but this book delivered me that. If you haven’t read it yet, read it now. Then let’s talk about it. I’m dying to talk to someone about it!
Tender Morsels was a controversial book, dealing as it did with incest, rape, and revenge, and I certainly found some of the scenes hard to read. What I loved most about the book was the firecracker language, and that sense of strangeness and mystery that Margo seems to do so well. It went on to win a World Fantasy Award too, and was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book as well.
Now Margo has a new book out and I could hardly wait to get my greedy little hands on it. It’s about selkies, I was informed. I love selkies! If you don’t all know how much I love selkies, well, you should be able to guess.
Sea Hearts is wonderful, in all senses of the word. It’s a dark, moody, storm-wracked book of love, longing, desire, and wickedness. Its central character, Misskaella the sea-witch, is one of the most powerful fictive creations I’ve read in quite some time. Her story - and that of the selkies and the men who covet them – is heartbreaking in its sadness, yet also so hauntingly beautiful, so filled with the sweeping rhythm of the sea, and pierced here and there with shafts of light, that the lingering feeling is one of awe and wonderment.