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Sea Hearts

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'Why would I? People are uneasy enough with me - if I start bringing up sea-wives, they'll take against me good and proper.'
'It could be secret.'
'Could it?'


On remote Rollrock Island, the sea-witch Misskaella discovers she can draw a girl from the heart of a seal. So, for a price, any man might buy himself a bride; an irresistibly enchanting sea-wife. But what cost will be borne by the people of Rollrock - the men, the women, the children - once Misskaella sets her heart on doing such a thing?
Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire and revenge, of loyalty, heartache and human weakness, and of the unforeseen consequences of all-consuming love.

343 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Margo Lanagan

107 books600 followers
Margo Lanagan, born in Waratah, New South Wales, is an Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction.

Many of her books, including YA fiction, were only published in Australia. Recently, several of her books have attracted worldwide attention. Her short story collection Black Juice won two World Fantasy Awards. It was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and the United Kingdom by Gollancz in 2004, and in North America by HarperCollins in 2005. It includes the much-anthologized short story "Singing My Sister Down".

Her short story collection White Time, originally published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in 2000, was published in North America by HarperCollins in August 2006, after the success of Black Juice.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 944 reviews
Profile Image for Stacia (the 2010 club).
1,045 reviews3,935 followers
November 26, 2012
If you have any expectations of what this book will be like based on the cover, throw them away. You won't find a dreamy, romantic, fairy-tale retelling here.

It's more like this type of crazy business going on...


Recipe for a twisted, dark fairy tale :

1. One crazy witch
2. Stupid men who think with the wrong head
3. Seals (I'm being serious, the actual sea creatures)
4. Blank-eyed women who are willing to serve their men Stepford-Wife style.

Confused yet? Trust me, I was confused for the first couple of chapters. Once I started figuring out what was going on, I found myself disturbingly aroused uh... scared uh... interested.

Basically, this nasty, crazy witch woman can call up seals and cut them open. These seals then pop out these extremely sensual looking women who are willing to cling to the first person they see/bond with. Yes, it's like mail-order brides, except more of a local affair. Needless to say, the men were ALL over this trend.

Islander number 1 : Hey Frank, you got your hot seal wife yet? Mine cooks me dinner every night before doing the naked tango with me.

Islander number 2 : Nah. The dumb witch wants more money than I can afford. I'm putting in extra hours down at the docks so I can get me a slave soon.

Think there's a catch? Of course there is. That's where the story takes a turn.

I loved this book but I can honestly say that it won't be for everyone. It does take a couple of chapters to get to the point where you feel sucked in. Because of the confusing and almost dreary start, I could see how some people are going to jump ship before the story gets to a point where you want to keep going because you're bizarrely fascinated with this twisted, beautiful, and disturbing world. I was glad that I stuck with Brides of Rollrock Island because I love books that stray outside of the realm of normal. Anything that isn't cookie cutter tends to earn extra marks from me.

This author is shelved as YA but I found this book to read more like an Adult historical fic w/a sprinkling of magical realism. Basically, a more modern (albeit dark) and grown-up fairy tale.
Profile Image for Reynje.
272 reviews965 followers
August 4, 2012

4.5 stars
”Was she beautiful, the sea-maid? Fair strange, Doris had said, and I thought that was a fine assessment.
Fair strange. I think that’s a fine assessment of Sea Hearts too: beautiful in, or for, its unusualness.

It’s proving extremely difficult to review Sea Hearts (titled The Brides of Rollrock Island in the US) in isolation, and not hold it up against Lanagan’s previous novel, Tender Morsels. Though I read the latter earlier this year, I still haven’t been able to wrangle my thoughts into review form, beyond being able to say that it’s one of the most powerful, disturbing and peculiar books I’ve ever read. (And I do mean that in a good way). So I was apprehensive, even nervous, going into Sea Hearts.

Now having read them both, I can definitely say that there are some similarities between the novels, as they both have Lanagan’s singularly complex and artistic use of language, atmosphere, emotion, and thematic depth. However, while Tender Morsels is almost relentlessly unsettling, I believe Sea Hearts, without diluting the power of Lanagan’s writing, is the more accessible book.

And the writing is exquisite. Besides the rich, lyrical prose that sets Lanagan apart as a storyteller, it’s also incredibly atmospheric. Rollrock Island and its small, insular community of Potshead are exceptionally well-realised. Lanagan has created a setting that feels simultaneously familiar and foreign, a glimpse of our own past slightly tilted on its axis into something strange and not quite of our world. Through dialogue and characterisation, the world of Rollrock slips its moorings in reality and occupies a realm of existence just beyond our own, all the more so as the story of the selkies and sea-witches are woven into its history.

Sea Hearts is structured around seven narrators, each taking up a layer of the story until it comes full circle. At first, the framework seems strange and the shifts in perspective and time feel abrupt, incomplete. Then a synergy in the voices begins to emerge, drawing towards a central, cohesive thread, and it becomes clear just how complex and dark a story Lanagan is weaving.

On the surface, Sea Hearts is about a sea-witch with the ability to draw forth a woman from a seal, who begins trading in brides for the men of Rollrock Island. But that synopsis barely scratches the surface of what this novel is about. This is a deeply insightful story about the consequences of revenge exacted upon a community, and of the sorrow bought with unchecked desire. The far reaching effects of rejection, fear and loss are adroitly explored through the characters, whom Lanagan imbues with sympathy despite their many actions to the contrary. This is most evident in Misskaella, a character flawed and reprehensible, yet deeply human in her story of growth from a spurned child and downtrodden young woman, to a calculating and feared crone. Some of Lanagan’s most beautiful writing is tied up in Misskaella’s character arc, and the consequences that her personal journey wreaks upon the island. Similarly, there’s a scene that details a conversation between Daniel Mallett and his mother, too long to quote here, so poignant and moving for the way it gets straight to the heart of the novel - to the private burdens of sorrow and guilt that the island must atone for cumulatively.

Of course, much like Tender Morsels, the style and subject of Sea Hearts won’t be for everyone, and I’d even venture to say that it’s an acquired taste. The novel can feel dense at times, enigmatic to the point of frustration. Lanagan compels her readers to unusual, dark places and does not always deliver explanations, rather requiring readers to draw their own. She does not offer detailed rationalisations for her worldbuilding choices, and there are times when I felt out of my depth in the setting. However, the end result is extraordinary and rewarding.

Tender Morsels in a feminist context has been the subject of much discussion, both far more in depth and more articulately than I could even begin to attempt, but I think it’s worth touching on the subject as it pertains to Sea Hearts.

I do think that Lanagan’s novels have many intelligent things to say about the position of women in society. Sea Hearts less stridently than Tender Morsels, but still in an insightful and thought-provoking manner. Throughout Sea Hearts, traditional gender roles are very much in evidence, and I think that Lanagan subtly challenges these as the plot unfolds. The female characters typically occupy narrowly defined places in their society, yet both the “red wives” and the sea wives have agency in contesting these. Most obvious is the “red wives” in their decision to leave the island in protest against the summoning of the sea wives. And while it’s arguable that the sea wives themselves are conjured as “possessions” of the men, living under their dominance and as manifestations of the men’s sexual desire and objectification, they too have purpose and desire outside being “wives”. Their ties to their home, and the action this causes them to take, clearly demonstrate that their will extends beyond the narrow confines of Potshead’s social norms and expectations, and that attempting a forced assimilation only damages the tightly knit community. From Miskaella, Bet Winch’s mother, the sea wives, Lory Severner to Trudle Callisher, the central female characters of Sea Hearts display different aspects of strength and independence, asserting themselves beyond the rigid and limited views of them held by the other characters, particularly the men.

Sea Hearts is an unusual novel, beautiful in its sadness and haunting closure. It works well as a crossover and I’d recommend it to anyone drawn to artful storytelling and literary fiction.

As for the covers and titles, I like them all, though I admit a bias for the Australian versions of both. I like the title Sea Hearts (which is also the title of the original novella from which the novel grew), for its duality – it works on both a literal and symbolic level and is therefore open to a variety of interpretations. Regarding the covers, anyone who’s had a glance at my tumblr knows how I feel about moody pictures involving water (spoiler: I like them), however I think the Australian cover is more evocative of the sea wives as they’re described.

And I think it’s just gorgeous in general.

seahearts2


Starting this tonight.. *flails and runs to catch up with Leanne*

seahearts

Bumping this up the TBR to read with Leanne next week..
Profile Image for Keertana.
1,126 reviews2,162 followers
December 26, 2012
The Brides of Rollrock Island is one of those novels that left me with the thought that there is no possible word in the English language that could even attempt to summon up the strange, ethereal, and mystifying experience that is chronicled in this book. As my first venture into Lanagan’s world, I have to admit that Brides simply blew me away, leaving me utterly breathless. It is a slow, intriguing tale that often reminded me of Darwin’s An Origin of Species, since, in many ways, Lanagan seems to be recording the evolution of the magic on Rollrock Island through her multiple PoVs, characters, and generations. Brides is a story that sucks you in from the very first page and just keeps sucking the emotions, feelings, and deepest desires of your soul right out until you close the last page, a secret smile upon your face as your mind is a little more intelligent, your heart a little more accepting, and your world a little more different than ever before.

It is difficult to properly summarize The Brides of Rollrock Island in any way that could possibly do it justice or cease to reveal one-too-many spoilers. It is suffice, I hope, to say that much like Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is a tale of the island of Thisby and its deadly water horses, Brides is a tale of Rollrock Island, a mystical island on which seals loiter about, giving way to the legend of beautiful brides emerging from these seals, only to pine for the ocean every waking hour they spend away from it. It is on this island that Misskaella is born, to a family like any other except for the stark difference that a generation’s buried affinity for magic has been successfully suppressed, until the birth of Misskaella herself.

It is these two seemingly un-similar occurrences – a forgotten legend and the birth of a woman with magical abilities – that spark the story arc of Brides. Within her latest novel, Lanagan weaves a complex tale of carefully extracted revenge, using seven different PoV’s to transition between past, present, and future; woman, child, and man. Each PoV is unique, different, and surprisingly deep. As each one unfolds, the overarching arc of the novel becomes clearer and clearer as Lanagan carefully peels back the intricate layers of her world, its psychology, its people, and its world in and of itself. The Brides of Rollrock Island is not a tale of happiness, but neither is it one of despair. If anything, it is bittersweet at its finest, a blend of subtle joy sprinkled amongst a sea of troubles, injustices, and unfairness’s. Yet, at its core, it is a beautiful and touching story, one that gives strength, lends hope, and leaves you thinking for hours afterwards.

The Brides of Rollrock Island, despite being a story of revenge, is not a story that puts blame on any one person or group of people. In fact, Lanagan masterfully weaves her story in such a way that it is impossible to tell right from wrong. All we are able to glean from this novel, at the end, is that its course was inevitable. Any one of us, if thrown into the positions of these characters, would have mostly likely reacted the same way, making this a strangely believably tale. Furthermore, the undertone of doom, of history living on to repeat itself again and again, of men falling prey to the beauty that is beheld by eyes and not the heart or mind, to women falling prey to trust of men who woo them with words, of children falling prey to the prejudices of their parents…all this is within human nature and its cycle will repeat itself and the events that occur on Rollrock are all bound to occur yet again, in another hundred years or so. If anything, it is this theme of being unable to control one’s fate that is so aptly felt.

Yet, the subtle undertones of this novel indicate otherwise. Whether it be the women of Rollrock Island who have the strength and courage to leave her husbands who want beautiful sea wives to a new life in a foreign town, or the children of the sea wives who find it in themselves to defy the fathers they look up to and grant their mothers the happiness they seek, or whether it is the witch of Rollrock herself who finds a way to love and happiness despite her estrangement from society which was granted to her based solely on her appearance and gift of magic she couldn’t control, The Brides of Rollrock Island is full of characters who take fate into their own hands. Of characters who decide to mold what they want from life, despite what circumstances have thrown at them. It may be a story of aching sadness and despair, but it is also a novel of so much strength and hope and courage that one cannot help but come away from it an inspired individual.

Nevertheless, what I loved most about The Brides of Rollrock Island, is, without a doubt, its ending. For once, here is a novel that starts out strong, builds and keeps getting better, and ends with the strongest note of all. If there is such a thing as a perfect novel, it is probably this one as its prose is beautiful, its story mesmerizing, its characters three-dimensional, and its capacity to make you open your mind and think and revel and accept is simple astounding. I just cannot recommend this novel enough. It is a story that will stick with me for a long time to come and one that I will undoubtedly return to in a matter of years, confident that I will come away from it with even more knowledge, more questions, more wisdom, and more mind-blown than ever before. If you choose to read just one Margo Lanagan novel or one Aussie Fantasy or just one book, let it be this one. It lacks the capacity to disappoint; trust me.

You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings.
Profile Image for Anne.
40 reviews37 followers
December 3, 2012
The back of the book says we see the deepest of human cruelty, but also of love. Wrong: there is no love in this book.

If you like the last episode of Twin Peaks, you'll like this book. That's not exactly a good thing. This novel takes 'cerebral' to a whole other degree.

First off there's a difference between throwing your reader into a novel's world no holds-bar and throwing a reader into a world and not caring if they understand what on earth is going on. Only half way through the book will you begin to even become comfortable in the world, about 200 or so pages in, which is not a good thing. Not that I don't mind books not having a layman character that I can relate to in ignorance of what's going on, but I would like some explanation of what the hell is going on.

You basically shouldn't read the first chapter of the book. There's no purpose to it, in all honesty. The language, the actions of the characters have no impact on the story and serves only to confuse the reader.

As for the rest of the novel...it builds up...sort of, and has no real climax. Like a meal of rice and milk, there's no flavor besides the novelty of the world. Men can pay a witch to bring women out of seals that are beautiful and magical. They all fall in love with them and kidnap them to their houses driving their real women away form the island because their husband/fiancees/sons are resorting to affairs and adultery to have these seal-women. The witch does this because everyone on the island was a horrible human being anyway, so this is her revenge because the seal women are depressed to be away from the sea even as they have children with their new husbands.

That's the book. There's nothing else to the story, and there are no likable characters. There are character's you feel bad for and you want to see victorious, but they are, in the end, either corrupted or loose. At one point you think a male character who will resist the witch, but no. He fails too.

The author seems to just loathe men. And while I'm against man-hating posing as feminism which permeates through literature like wild fire, I find it insulting that the men of this island get no punishment. Oh, after the "climax" they feel sad, sure. But that's it. They're free to go on with their lives. I can see where sorrow could be enough of a punishment, but the author is too focused on her flowered language and imagery to actually portray some kind of human emotion.

That's really all it is, pretty without emotion. The language is lovely, and reading it is like eating candy, but it makes to sick after a while when you try and clutch for some sort of plot or reason to keep reading.

This is my first novel by this author, and while I like her writing style I'm hesitant to read another by her, award winning or not.
Profile Image for Heidi.
756 reviews175 followers
September 13, 2012
4.5 Stars

Melancholy. If I had to capture Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island in one word, melancholy would be the one. Melancholy is sad, but also thoughtful; beautiful and heartbreaking–as was this tale. The Brides of Rollrock Island isn’t a streamlined book. Told from six varying points of view our tale begins in the middle, reverses to the beginning, and moves forward to the end with a motion that indicates that this is a story that has happened before, and one that can happen again. The age old adage that history is doomed to repeat itself is ever present in Lanagan’s book–we know roughly what will happen because it has all happened before, and we end with the unshakable knowledge that it is only a matter of time before events take a similar course once again.

The Brides of Rollrock Island is a book with no heroes or villains, it is a book where every man, woman, and child falls victim to their humanity or lack thereof. Who do we point fingers at? Who do we blame when things go wrong? The answer is complicated beyond our ability to grasp when we see clearly each sides’ motivations. The men of Rollrock cannot help but be bewitched and enraptured by the seal women who come to shore, the selkies cannot help bewitching or having hearts ever torn between the sea and the men they love, and how can we blame a woman who has endured many cruelties for dooming others to share what touch of happiness she has known?

If it seems as if this is another review where I will talk little of the story and much of the atmosphere, you are correct. I firmly believe it is best for readers to open The Brides of Rollrock Island with a mystery hanging over their head, knowing only that it will be breathtaking, but there are some details I will share. The Brides of Rollrock Island has a haunting and sad air about it, much like a Gothic novel, and while one could impose its time as early 20th century, the story also remains timeless in a manner that is rarely captured. The island of Rollrock itself embodies the notion of setting as character with a spirit, personality, and story of its own. It will make you long to breathe salt in the air, spend your days on rocky shores, and gaze into the sad, dark eyes of wild creatures.

One of the most unique aspects of The Brides of Rollrock Island is the way it tells a very adult story through the eyes of children and young adults. Each narration in the book is from the eyes of a child or young adult, and as they age into adulthood we stumble into the point of view of another, learning to see the island and its people in new ways. Creating the perfect crossover story, Lanagan has written a tale that will captivate young and old alike with an ebb and flow of characters that matches the ever changing sea itself. Our characters grow, our views of them morph from pity to understanding to admiration to scorn as we experience The Brides of Rollrock Island from nearly all angles.

Nearly, I say, because there is one point of view that remains elusive–that of the sea brides themselves. I actually didn’t realize this upon reading, until it was pointed out to me by Catie in her review. I’ve decided, however, that this is not a point of complaint for me. I actually kind of love that while we are given a small glimpse of their souls, the selkie women remain largely mysterious and otherworldly. As humans, we so often need human (or part human) narrators to understand those creatures of myth, and The Brides of Rollrock Island is no exception. I would love to understand the sea wives, but in the end I’m not sure that would be fair to them. Their men, children, and those who lived elsewhere certainly never fully understood these women, so who am I to do so?

Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island is a stunning and beautiful work of fantasy, one that is as cold as it is rich, and as lyrical as it is cruel. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2012, and it did not disappoint–on the contrary–it exceeded all possible expectations and has been one of my favorite reads this year. I had intended to read this one as a read along with Jen and Heather, but alas, real life (and hurricanes) got in our way and we never really aligned–still, it’s a wonderful work I’m looking forward to discussing now that we’ve finished!

Original review posted at Bunbury in the Stacks.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews184 followers
June 24, 2015
I got this on audio from AudioBookSync

Wow, this book is weird.

There's something peculiarly haunting about selkie folklore. I can picture a careworn, exhausted mother telling the story to her daughter. Once the women could swim free, before they were robbed of their skins. I can see a father, still mourning the loss of his wife from childbirth, telling it to his young son. The women don't want to leave their husbands and children, but they're torn, and the sea is in their nature, and someday they must return to it.

The symbolism of the story is so very direct: when the man sees the selkie women, carefree and beautiful and happy, he is enchanted, and his enchantment quickly turns to acquisitive lust. He steals a skin and thereby imprisons the maiden, turning her from a creature of the wild seas to an obedient wife. He keeps her skin--her agency--locked away, and without it, she is utterly dependent upon him, unable to leave, unfit to seek the freedom of the ocean. But since this is a fairy tale, the skin cannot remain hidden forever. When the selkie gets it back, she abandons not only her greedy husband but usually her children as well. Is this, too, a metaphor? An attempt to explain to a child why a mother might leave, either through death or by her own volition? And which is the happy ending? I suppose it depends upon who is telling the story.

But anyway, Lanagan took a different path. While the theme of selkie freedom is of course intrinsic to the story, she leaves the agency metaphor alone. In fact, despite a massive narrative cast, the only set of characters who are never given voices are the selkies themselves. Throughout the story, they remain mute, stripped of self-expression along with their skins.

The oddest aspect of Lanagan's version, and the part I can't wrap my mind around, is that in her story, the root cause of all the evil is a wicked witch. In the end, the men may be weak for bowing to temptation, but since there are evil spells involved, they must not be all that bad for imprisoning the selkies, forcing them into marriage, effectively raping them, and ignoring their overwhelming depression. Clearly it's all the fault of that wicked (female) witch. There's an overarching theme of evil begetting evil--after all, we get to see how the evil witch becomes an evil witch--but I couldn't help but feel that her presence trivializes things a bit. Or maybe not. Maybe Lanagan doesn't see temptation as an excuse. I suppose it's all down to interpretation.

I'm not sure it's something I would have picked up myself, but I definitely found Sea Hearts a thought-provoking read.
905 reviews257 followers
May 27, 2015
I think I can best explain my feelings towards this book in terms of what it wasn't quite.

For example:
The writing was lovely, but not quite beautiful.
The story was interesting, but not quite captivating.
The story was different, but not quite unique*.
The multiple points of view didn't quite work as well as it should have.

The word 'quite" is starting to look a little odd to me, so I'll stop using it.

A couple of little technical points really grated on me as a reader, petty though they may be. First, there was the fact that sometimes speech was written between inverted commmas (as is the norm) and other times it was written in italics, but I never could work out the exact reason. I did think it could be to indicate memory, but there were other times of recall that didn't follow this rule so I was left bewildered and annoyed.

Second, and pettier still, is that fact that in the edition I read, the first page of each chapter was printed on the left-hand page, which was likely intentional but to me simply felt sloppy and annoying, like a first print-job had gone slightly wrong.

There were, of course, good points. Some of the characters were quite interesting, and their points of view a pleasure to read. The story itself was fairy interesting also, although some points that were bought in were dragged out and unnecessary. The writing itself was wonderfully bleak, if you read it in the right mood, or depressing and boring if you are feeling impatient, as I was when I started.

Once I got past the first few pages, it managed to grip me enough for me to finish it but those first pages were a struggle that took me almost a month to overcome.

My verdict: worth reading, but likely to be soon forgotten.



*an interesting re-working of the selkie myth, but not as original as others I have read and heard.
Profile Image for Steph Su.
943 reviews452 followers
December 2, 2012
When you read a Margo Lanagan book, you expect it to both confuse and enthrall you. And THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND delivers that head-spinning, gut-churning, fizzy-brained mixture of “what in the world is going on?” and “did she really go there?” and “oh my goodness she is a genius.”

You can read THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND as a nontraditionally narrated snapshot of an island’s history, with no straightforward plot and no answers to what’s right or what’s wrong in this world. That’ll either confuse the hell out of you, or you will be delighted at the amount of space Lanagan allows readers to bring in their own values and interests to the story. Those who want to find a depiction of the complex meanings of domestic loyalty get that. Or you can also read it for its marvelous craft, its characterization and worldbuilding. It’s a story that gives no clear answers, and is all the more special because of that.

Much like Thisby Island of The Scorpio Races, Rollrock Island feels like an entity of its own. Lanagan skillfully weaves a picture of an island suffocated by yet dependent on its claustrophobic living conditions, neighbors knowing one another’s businesses and knowing who marries who and who’s doing what with who else’s woman. I find stories contained in a small area, where each inhabitant must be developed with his or her unique idiosyncrasies, so much more interesting and realistic than plain-Jane YAs set in Anywheretown, America. The people and the island setting force one another to reveal their imperfect, weird aliveness.

For those who appreciate great writing and are tired of the repetitious plots and characters that appear in so much YA, THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND will renew your faith in the magic of writing.
Profile Image for Isamlq.
1,578 reviews713 followers
August 29, 2012


This is my first Lanagan but by no means will it be my last. From the very words chosen to the way they’d been woven together, the feel of this is long and lush, dense and at times too much. Everything is so specifically and skillfully put together, that I felt the moody, dark and yes, sometimes even disturbing tone just propelled me forward.

I’ve come away with characters that cannot help but be well-realised. Better yet, those seven voices each building upon what’s last been said serve up stories that are so clearly depicted that the choices made whether hard or sad or questionable were simply decisions, but the people quite simply are who they are.People. Never more obvious than with Miskaella and Daniel, where Misakaela’s tale starts from sad girl to feared woman, her choices are not as disturbing (and they were) given the background laid down of her or the more painful story of of Daniel and his mother, when at last the wrongness of what’s been done is voiced out.

Of course, set in a place time that’s two things at once, reading this was quite the experience for me. The place is a bit unclear given the oddness and strangeness mixed in what could be. A sea witch calling forth sea wives for men of Rollrock Island, red wives leaving, sea wives staying, so that what’s initially odd becomes less odd and only to later become what is. It’s disturbing and dark, but genuine and though provoking: a woman’s place, a man’s choice, a son’s duty, a mother’s love, but at the core are the people and the choices each made and then later still the consequences of all those. Surprisingly, with each of the seven building on what’s been said, there’s an ending that’s haunting, leaving me only more questions... a fact that is not necessarily a negative.

5/5

Just know that if I could give BRIDES more stars than a 5, I would
Profile Image for ~Tina~.
1,092 reviews159 followers
April 13, 2012
This is one of those books were I'm completely clueless of what I could possible say about it. So I'm gonna keep this short.
While I may have struggled with the writing style, I still thought this was beautifully told. Margo Lanagan has a way she set this story. It reads like a mythical fairy tale. It's whimsical, vibrant and almost poetic, while it's characters felt haunting, fierce and achingly real. But with that said, I have to admit, I still struggled with the way this was told. I'm usually okay with multiply point of views, but I'm not sure it worked well for this particular book. It felt overwhelming at times and I had to really work to understand everything from dialog to precise scenes that was happening throughout the entire plot point.
Still, there were precious moments in The Brides of Rollrock Island that touched my heart.
The experience alone was worth the read.

(Special thanks to Crystal for sharing your copy!)
Profile Image for ALPHAreader.
1,089 reviews
January 31, 2012
There are rumours about Rollrock Island. Mainlanders claim that the small, remote island is populated with impossibly beautiful women … mams and wives with silken hair and long limbs, lips you could lose yourself in and fathomless eyes. They say these women came from the sea – conjured by a witch for the Rollrock men to bed and wed. Rumour has it that these sea-maidens wash ashore and bewitch men, stealing husbands and suitors alike.

But the Rollrock women are curious creatures. Born of the sea, they came conjured from the skins of seals. Their coats were taken by men to keep them ashore, to keep them from returning to their watery freedom.

Beware Rollrock Island, they say. You must wear a cross on your back to avoid sea-maiden temptation. And don’t send your beloved betrothed to the island for anything – for he won’t come back the same and smitten with you.

‘Sea Hearts’ ('The Brides of Rollrock Island' in the US) is the new novel from Australian author, Margo Lanagan.

This novel is absolutely divine. In ‘Sea Hearts’ Lanagan is writing a new Fairytale addition to the old Selkie legend. Scottish in origin, and supposedly beginning on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Selkie story concerns women who masquerade as seals (and vice versa). They are inhumanly beautiful and mystifying – in some legends they shed their seal coats and tempt men to their beds, only to vanish by daylight. In others, the mysterious women live amongst us, perfectly normal until the day that the sea’s pull is too much and they leave all behind (even children and husbands). In ‘Sea Hearts’, Lanagan weaves a far more delicious and dastardly tale about these Selkie sea-maidens …

Set on the fictional island of Rollrock, the book follows a cast of islanders as they encounter the Selkie legend of their home. Daniel Mallett is a happy young boy who collects sea-hearts for his mam to cook up. He and his other friends (all boys) play on the rocks of the island’s namesake and do their best to avoid the local witch, Misskaella. But Daniel and his friends feel a secret closing in on them … to do with the lack of girl children, and the odd barking language their mams converse in when they’re ritually bathing by the rocks.

After Daniel, the book’s narrative recedes, ebbs and flows; like the tide coming in. Lanagan takes us back to the beginnings of the Rollrock mystery, where we meet Bet Winch, a young girl whose older brother has gone missing. His new wife comes calling, looking for her Nase, needing help with the two babies they have at home. But Bet and her mother discover the young man in an abandoned cottage, holed up with an incomparably beautiful woman who smells like the enticing ocean.

Dominic Mallett was bundled off his native Rollrock Island after his da’s death. For years he lived on the mainland, and is even betrothed to a mainland girl. But he has to return to Rollrock for sentimental souvenirs, and though his fiancée is reluctant to see him venture back to the island of his childhood, he promises he will return in time for their wedding. Nothing shall keep him from her.

And then there’s Misskaella Prout – she is the book’s hinge, the beginning of the Rollrock legend and resident island witch. We meet Misskaella as a young, fat girl – living with a loveless ma and siblings as mean as snakes. The family don’t think much of Misskaella, and the villagers even less. But there is something special about this young girl … she brings the seals from the rocks. One day these great, lumbering beasts crawl to town. Their heads swivel when she passes, and they congregate around her family’s house. Misskaella is told to wear a bandaged cross on her back, to ward off the seals. Because Misskaella has a gift, and if she’s not careful, terrible things will come of her power to call.

Growing into a bitter and shrewd woman, Misskaella puts her ‘gift’ to good use, and starts calling Selkie sea-maidens from their coats, to be married to Rollrock men – for a price.

Any man seeing this maiden's lips would want to lay kisses on them; he would want to roll in the cushions of those lips, swim the depths of those eyes, run his hands down the long foreign lengths of this girl. Oh, I thought, women of Rollrock, you are nothing now.

Margo Lanagan’s novel is divine. She has written a fairytale from all sides – the witch who birthed the legend, the men spelled, stranded sea-maidens, right down to the children born of the mythological creatures. These multiple perspectives make for a delicious and fanciful tale, but my favourite was Misskaella’s. Without her point of view we may have been made to think she was simply an evil ‘witch’, just as the residents of Rollrock do. But Lanagan allows us a glimpse into Miss’s sad childhood, her weird and wonderful connection with seal magic, even exploring her own doomed fate with the Selkie magic. Misskaella is a wonderfully tangled character; almost Shakespearean for the way her own magic turns in on itself.

‘Sea Hearts’ is a divinely lyrical retelling of an old myth. A Selkie fairytale narrated by all the players – from the witch to the cursed men, the stolen sea-maidens and the cubs they birthed. Lanagan’s tale is fanciful and Gothic, hauntingly complex and utterly beautiful.
Profile Image for Kate Forsyth.
Author 75 books2,308 followers
August 30, 2012
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.
Phew!
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.
Profile Image for Laura Morrigan.
Author 1 book44 followers
May 3, 2012
I have always liked stories about witches. Real witches, not just monsters in stories told to scare children. They fascinate me: their strength, their outsider status, ostracised by society. Did they become a witch and then become an outcast, or did their outcast status drive them to witchcraft? What does witch mean, other than an insult for a strong or independant woman, or a woman who is just different from everyone else.

Miskaella was born looking different from the other girls on Rockroll island. She was short and heavy, without their prettiness. And she 'hearkened back' to their shameful history. She was an outcast. When her powers began to develop, even her mother could not look at her the same way. While her motivations in creating the brides may have been selfish, and revenge driven, you can understand her motivations, all that she has lost and never had. This is the kind of character I like, a woman who you can understand, care about. She is flawed and unbeautiful, and so deserving of happiness, it makes me sad. It is fascinating how she becomes what they labelled her as.

A couple of generations on and everything has changed. Not just Miskaella, shaped into a mad, vengeful old witch, but the town itself. Now the normal women are the outcasts.

With a narrative told through a collection of characters, Lanagan paints a vivid picture of small island life and the strange magic that makes it a place apart. There is sympathy for all the characters, including the sea wives who have no choice in the matter. Everyone loses from the bringing of the sea wives. But in the end, life goes on.

Maybe it was right to punish the women by initially bringing the sea-wives (although probably not) but what about all the future pain it causes? Is revenge ever justified?

This is a story about magic that looks at the human cost, showing how the characters lives are changed by what happens. There are many fairytales and old stories about birdwives, swan maidens, squirrel wives, selkies, etc. but often they are about a man getting the woman as a reward for his cleverness or trickery, never about what it is like for them to live together, or how the woman feels about it. Sea Hearts looks at the consequences.
Profile Image for Melina Marchetta.
Author 30 books7,531 followers
August 25, 2016
It's my favourite Margo Lanagan and that's saying something. It's truly beautiful writing.
Profile Image for Sara .
1,108 reviews109 followers
January 7, 2018
Wow. I have so many thoughts about this book. First: Sadness that I took so long to read this one (I purchased it for the library in 2012) - I think I was put off by the title and the cover which seemed to infer some kind of drippy romance. It is not any kind of drippy romance. Not at all.

I think the best way to describe this novel is If a Slightly More Optimistic Shirley Jackson Wrote about Selkies. Like Jackson's work, this book is set in a claustrophobic small community where resentments and judgments and discord abound. Much like the unforgettable Merricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Misskaella is both shunned by her community and full of simmering resentment towards it. And as with Merricat, the reader feels both sympathy and horror towards Miskaella as she finds a way to enact revenge on her community - an act that spirals through succeeding generations in ever-changing ways.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD - I WOULD RECOMMEND READING NO FURTHER IF YOU WANT THE BEST EXPERIENCE WITH THIS BOOK

In this case, Misskaella's revenge is agreeing to bring forth beautiful young women from seals as sea-brides for the dissatisfied young men of the island. Soon, every man on the island wants a seal-wife - even those already married to human women. Who wouldn't want a beautiful, lithe, docile, compliant, moldable, magical creature instead of a complicated human with needs and emotions of her own? As I was reading about the island becoming completely transformed into a society exclusively of human men and sea-wives and their children, I felt very disturbed. Isn't this basically slavery? When the sea-wife is removed from the seal body, the man keeps the seal-coat and hides it away so his wife will not return to the sea. She is therefore completely under his will, and yet none of the sea-wives seemed resentful. Maybe wistful for the sea - but not angry at basically being held captive. Gross, right?

But I should have trusted the author, because what on the surface seems like a win for all these men is later revealed to be a curse for everyone, including the men. The crux of the book is how some male characters come to realize the rot of their society and begin to wonder if they can make changes. Maybe it is our current political moment, but this made me think of the #metoo movement and of #blacklivesmatter and how there are men and white people who are suddenly starting to realize how a system of oppression harms everyone within the system - including the oppressors - and more importantly how their role within the system harms the oppressed. And how we can all make choices - sometimes difficult and painful - to right some wrongs, and make everyone more free.
Profile Image for Cristina.
252 reviews47 followers
February 7, 2017
I don't really know where to begin with talking about this novel. I have never read anything by Margo Lanagan, but have been wanting to for some time. Seeing as I have a penchant for tales that involve the sea and magic, when I first read the synopsis for this book I knew that I wanted to read it straight away. Only trouble was - I made the mistake of ordering it on Fishpond, instead of waiting for the September 2012 US release of it under the title, The Brides of Rollrock. It wouldn't necessarily have saved me a whole lot of money, but when the first copy took a month to ship, and then never showed up, and I had to wait even then another month for them to allow me to request for a new copy sent...I basically waited months & months & months for this book, because I had already purchased it, though it was being sold at my local bookstore. I saw it several times and almost got it, but I am honestly so glad that I waited because the Aussie version, which is titled Sea Hearts is so much more beautiful and fitting in its cover art, design and titling...in my opinion. I love my copy.

Anyways - to discuss the content of this book is going to be painful for me. Not because it is sad or awful, but because it is so beautiful and powerful and it crept so deeply inside of me, I do not know how to discuss it or review it. Suffice it to say, I did not find any flaws whatsoever in this story or in its delivery.

The story, which is told over a few generations from varying perspectives, takes place on the remote and quaint island of Rollrock. Misskaella, a young witch, realizes that she can retrieve from the heart of a seal, a woman...a sea-wife, a gorgeous and well-tempered woman who will immediately fall madly in love with the first man she sees. After a lifetime of being trodden over and disregarded by her siblings, peers, and parents, the witch uses this power as a sort of revenge over the people of Rollrock. And so begins the tale. . . . .

One thing that greatly stands out to me about this novel, is the lack of a villain. From the various points of view, you come to know how the arrival of the sea-wives affects everyone on Rollrock for many, many years: first, wives & daughters...and later, husbands, fathers, sons. And despite so much turmoil that comes about, you cannot blame the witch Misskaella, because through her narration you have come to know her and understand her. In this book, the line between right and wrong, good and bad, is completely obliterated and every character is left raw before you, so human, so imperfect, and so real. This book describes human emotion, and specifically revenge, pain, love, ignorance and desire in ways that few books I have read have even come close to. I think that the strongest bit of the story is probably that which is told from Misskaella's point of view - but I must say that my favorite is that of Daniel Mallett. However, I fell in love with every character, I felt their pain and their desire and I felt that I knew their heart.

Another thing that cannot go without mentioning about this book: the mythology. This story is a fairytale that Lanagan could not have simply created...she must've travelled to the darkest, strangest depths of the ocean...the parts which go unseen by sunlight and humans and scientific reasoning and there, she caught it quickly in a mason jar and ran away home. I imagine she put that mason jar on her nightstand and there it glowed like a firefly, and she sat in the dark and stared into the light, and slowly came to understand the buzzing sound it emitted for language, and that is how she came to know this tale. I cannot fathom that a person created this world and these people of thin air, they are too real and too true!. This story, wild and unrelenting in its vibrancy caught me completely off guard in its originality and atmospheric detailing. The island of Rollrock became a place in me, a state of mind, and I let myself be carried off on icy waves to snowy hills and rocky beaches, warm in the summers...I saw cottages adorned with sea-like plants and shells and sea glass on windowsills... and oh, I'll dream of raven-haired, long-limbed women crying under blankets knitted from seaweed for a long time I think.

If you have not read Lanagan and want to, read this. But really just... READ THIS. whoever you are, whatever you're thinking of... READ THIS BOOK.
Profile Image for Tema.
42 reviews10 followers
February 22, 2016
This book was fascinating. I promise to try my best with this review

I picked it up because I was excited to see Melina Marchetta, one of my all-time favourite authors, had described the book as "breathtaking. Margo Lanagan raises the bar with every story she tells". Well. If Melina Marchetta, whose work I would call breathtaking, calls another book breathtaking, then I needed to read it!

The novel, you should know, is made up of individual, personal stories (the book's chapters), each told from the perspective of several protagonists who are all tied to the island of Rollrock. While these are individual stories, they all weave together in a complex yet accessible way to form a sole narrative with admirable breadth and depth. They paint a tale of an island community that is magically and horrifically transformed across many generations (this was done superbly by the way), exploring the consequences it has on the men, women and children.

One of the things I really loved about this book was the way the perspectives built on each other, answering questions that were posed in earlier chapters and asking questions to be answered in later ones. The choice of narrators was also brilliant. I was quite excited to discover what kind of narrator I was getting next.

The Brides of Rollrock Island was a bit hard to bite into at first. Lanagan's prose is beautiful. But, while I have a soft spot for original and beautiful prose, Lanagan's writing was a bit much for me at times, mainly during Misskaella Prout's chapter, which also happened to be the second chapter of the novel and the longest. Sometimes the prose was so poetic to be completely enigmatic. This is, however, coming from someone who has little to no appreciation of poetry.

Thankfully the rest of the chapters were more tamed and I appreciated Lanagan's reasons for using such levels of poetry during this particular chapter. Misskaella is, afterall, a witch; the magic in her is fierce and strange. The writing evokes strongly the colours of teal and grey. For me, I think the story really picked up with the arrival of the sea-wives. They do take a while to make an appearance so hang in there if you're like me and begin to wonder if this seal-bride thing is actually some kind of extended metaphor...

This book is also rich in feminist themes and exploration. A big YES! Another reason why I picked this one up. Lanagan explores the lives and roles in society of the different women (of land and sea) and the daughters in this transforming community, each trapped and oppressed by an ideal. Lanagan shows the cruelty of the men of Rollrock, but also the cruelty of the women. I am a massive admirer of works that use sci-fi/fantasy to tap into real-world issues, and Margo Lanagan really succeeds here with her use of selkie folklore.

Mothers. Wives. Daughters. Lovers. Outsiders. Witch. One of the ways Lanagan explore all of these is through the emphasis on mothers, or mams, as they're called on Rollrock. Whether it's the need to please one's mam, to follow and observe her, the love of one's mam or her absence, and the experience of motherhood, they all play a central part in each narrator's story and character. Reflecting on the book and what I've just written, I must not forget that their sons are also integral to the story, to the community's condemnation and redemption. Towards the later chapters, I would even describe the sons as feminists. Hopefully, I haven't scared anyone away with the F-Word. Yes, this book is feminist. So naturally it concerns women and men.

The Brides of Rollrock Island proves that while it's awesome to read about kick-ass heroines, there's so many other ways to raise feminist awareness and female representation in YA. I love a kick-ass female, but I can only take so many. While many of them are complex, I feel like this representation has become too narrow for real-life women. I'm not kick-ass, does that make me any less worthy? Brides reminds us what's wrong with a system that forces the lives of the female characters and leaves many with permanent scars. Most of the female characters are disempowered. But don't mistake this as passiveness. Many still exercise agency, although limited by the system. Yup, it's great to be able to read about average women who may or may not find a way out of an unfair system.
August 20, 2016
(I am so high right now.)

So there are all these people, right? And they live on this shitty island, right? And they all fish and bang one another until one fateful day this crazy 20 year old virgin decides she's had enough of being hard up and uses magic to summon up a hot seal-man out of the sea.

Then she's like, "Damn, son. If them seal bitches be as fine as you I bet nobody will want land-coochie ever again!" And she was right. She hated all them fine village ladies because they teased her for being fat, ugly, and generally kind of obnoxious (but everybody who lives there sucks ass, to be fair.) So she hatched a plan: she'd deprive all the womenz of husbands by marrying them to horny seal ladies.

The seal ladies were smokin' and totally DTF -- the catch was that being a seal was 100x more awesome than being a human, so they'd always try to return to the sea. But what man could resist a technical virgin looking like a white-washed Salma Hayek, unsure and pliable, with absolutely no fucking clue about herself? Not a one on Rollrock island, certainly, where the little head reigns supreme! So, the husbands collaborated together to ensure that the women could never swim away by hiding their seal skins in a closet -- a super secret closet, that no woman wot of.

This made all the Salma Hayeks super sad, so much so that they'd hang or drown themselves -- plus all their girl children ended up being seals so Rollrock island turned into a total sausage fest. But despite how crazy this drove their dumb husbands, they'd never let them go, because they were dicks, and also because of magic and shit... maybe. That wasn't really clear, so whatever.

The entire book follows the consequences of making hot seal women wives through several generations (It is not a romance.) The witch features in the beginning, and then later she passes out of the narrative so we can hear from a spurned wife, a filthy seal-marrying guy, the a half-seal son of the aforementioned guy, later the daughter of the spurned wife, and then finally the sea witch's protege. So it's a kind of mini-epic that tells the story of this island. Very high drama. Supposedly heart-wrenching. Except for the fact that it's told with an entirely flat affect, like that of a drooling invalid's.

Much like a fairytale, the plot requires only the flimsiest of justifications for the most outrageous of actions. It's very hard to empathize or even like any of the characters because they had no depth or personality. Most times, they didn't even feel human. If they're just the prop pieces needed to propel this weird story to completion, what's left? The one thing fairytales are supposed to have going for them is their moral, but I'll be fucked if I can find one. People are vain, small-minded, men especially? Remote islands will eventually drive everyone to bestiality? Just like if Hitler had gotten into art school, witches wouldn't be witches if only someone had the decency to fuck them? WITCHES NEED LOVE, TOO.

People keep talking about the prose and I wonder what people value in their writing. I need words to be more than just pretty sentiments in a line. Neither the plot or the characters had any impact, it was overlong, dry, and focused entirely too much on ambiance to the detriment of all else. One extra star for seal women, because I appreciate originality in my pap. Pap. That's a funny word.
Profile Image for Tanja (Tanychy).
588 reviews249 followers
September 20, 2013
I'm blown away! Review also posted at Ja čitam, a ti?

Don't be surprised if you see plenty of people putting this book as DNF as this books takes time. It takes time to feel its magic and get into the story. Luckily for me they are my favorite type. Also luckily for you because I'll try to make you read it and experience the real magic.

Everything starts in Rollrock Island, a very lonely place where most of the people are fisherman and they're pretty much cut out off from the outside world. They visit other islands from time to time but most of their lives they spend in Rollrockll. Beside being lonely this island is also very special and magical, very magical. It's the place where on the beach you can see seals lying in herds and only one person can wake them up. And everything starts with her...

Once upon a time Misskaella was just a simple girl in Rollrock and as many other girls she dreamed of marring and having a normal life, only some other things stopped her in that. Which lead to another thing - her magic and soon enough from the village's outcast she became the most powerful person, which changed lives of all village for many generations to come.

If you have a brilliant mind (as I do) and start reading this book without reading the blurb first you'll be lost. I mean you'll be lost anyway because this book has different narrators but as the plot unfolds you get to understand the connection between them, but I was extra lost. Don't bother if the whole idea seems pretty wicked as it really is, the writing here will keep you going and probably you'll start believing everything the author says. It's like magic where her words bewitched me and I couldn't but love this book.

I'm sure not many people will appreciate the suffering to discover the beauty here, but not me. I'm that kind of person that doesn't like that beauty that everyone can see, I like to search, go deeper to discover that beauty inside, the one that's hard to get but once you have it you feel fulfilled.
Profile Image for tee.
239 reviews244 followers
December 3, 2012
I have a million books to read (exaggerated but probably not far off) and yet the other day, I couldn't pick one of them - nothing was jumping out. I wanted to read about the ocean but it had to be magical. It needed to be witchy but not precious or twee. There was nothing that I owned remotely like this and just after I had given up, I stumbled upon a book recommendation for Sea Hearts (as The Brides of Rollrock Island is called here in Australia).

Too good to be true, surely. It sounded like everything I wanted. And blissfully, it was.

I went up through the town. Everything was so much as I remembered, and yet so much littler, that I was charmed and horrified both. Kitty would certainly hate it here, how cramped it was, how quiet, how empty of bustle. And she would see as odd, rather than as pleasing in their familiarity, the sea-wives’ touches on the houses. Stones and shells and tiny dried-weed baskets, useless for anything but decoration, lay arranged on many windowsills. The curtains the wives favoured were swept aside one way; a Cordliner would laugh at those, how the houses seemed to be looking slyly sideways. Cats stalked about everywhere, or lay curled on steps or fence-tops or in windows, patched strange colours from their interbreeding. And little gardens grew in pots and sheltered corners, crammed with the plants that the seal-women liked, which were not airy and flowery like mainland potted plants, but brought to mind coral, or oyster-clumps, or other kinds of sea growth.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it. An Australian author. A lady author. A mindblowing author that delivered on all fronts. A pungent, heady little novel full of sea smells and wistful selkies. I loved every second.

(Here's a video with Margo talking about the book - link)
Profile Image for Larissa.
329 reviews14 followers
April 2, 2012
When she was little she knew she was different, she just didn't understand how she was different. There were those in town who would whisper as she passed, others with courage would openly scorn her but most would simply turn away as though she were never there. That is till one day when the world opened up to her, her secrets were exposed and she performed magic; she called forth a maiden from the sea.

When he was younger he had never noticed the obvious, how all the mams on the island were the same graceful glossy haired beauties. All the mams that is but his own. His father had gone to the mainland to fetch a bride and had hopes he would do the same. But can a bride from the mainland, however beautiful, ever compare to a bride brought from the sea?

Being so young he didn't notice how unhappy his mam was, how unhappy all the mams were. They were born from the sea and living on land and, no matter how much they loved their families, it was breaking their hearts. But the mams could not return to the sea without their seal skins and the dads had those secretly locked away. But even if he could find a way to set his mam free would he really be willing to let her go?

Sea Hearts is a magically dark fairytale of one island and the generations of people who call it home. As one girl grows from awkward child, to misunderstood maiden to vengeful witch, her actions have consequences that span lifetimes. Amongst a witch's revenge, a lover's betrayal, a heart trapped between two worlds, a father's loss and an islands maddening desire remains a heartbreaking love. A hauntingly beautiful and eerie tale that is in every way a tragedy, but may still yet hold some hope.
Profile Image for Kerri Turner.
Author 3 books76 followers
June 13, 2017
I love nothing more than coming across a book with an interesting idea, that actually manages to live up to that idea. I thought this book did that in spades.

The concept, although reminding me strongly of Stepford Wives, was made unique by the almost fairytale-like aspects to it. And the way it was told left me constantly wanting to know what happened next - which is why I flew through reading this in about three days. The way it is written is just beautiful too; descriptive, without being heavy-handed, and allowing you to fully believe in every character.

Even though I thought the changes in time and perspective were a great way of telling the story (and allowing you to understand all the consequences), it kind of felt like a disappointment each time one part ended. I always wanted to know more about that character, and what happened after we left them. However, the next part would begin and I would find myself equally drawn in by that new character (and often finding out, through the new character's perspective, what happened to the previous characters anyway).

This was a truly beautiful, and pretty heartbreaking read. Would definitely recommend (and already have!) to others.
Profile Image for Moe.
182 reviews2 followers
Read
July 17, 2018
Abgebrochen nach ca. 100 Seiten.
Den Anfang fand ich sogar noch ganz gut. Eine junge Frau, die von ihrer Familie und dem ganzen Dorf schikaniert wird und versucht, diese Menschen so gut es geht zu vermeiden und ihren eigenen Weg zu finden. Und dann trifft sie plötzlich für eine Nacht *den Mann* und ...

Er hatte mir einen neuen Körper geschenkt, ihn mit Händen, Mund und Männlichkeit modelliert und magisch vervollkommnet. Zum ersten Mal in meinem Leben war ich schön und liebenswert gewesen, ganz gleich, ob Potsheads Bewohner genauso darüber dachten oder nicht. (S. 76)


Ich finde diese Botschaft problematisch. Sie erfährt in ihrem Leben nur Leid und dann kommt irgendwann der magische Mann und befreit sie mit seinem Penis. Na klar. Danach geht's ihr übrigens überhaupt nicht besser, sondern nur noch schlechter. Der Typ ist wieder weg, in ihrem Kopf aber immer noch heilig, und die Leute behandeln sie immer noch scheiße. Ich habe keine Ahnung, ob dieses Narrativ noch aufgelöst oder erklärt wird, aber momentan bin ich nicht motiviert genug, das noch bis zum Ende zu lesen.
Profile Image for S.B. Wright.
Author 1 book46 followers
February 20, 2012
I have been captivated by Margo Lanagan’s skill as a writer since I read her short story Singing My Sister Down. I don’t recall any other short story evoking such emotion before or since.

I discovered Tender Morsels last year and that was another powerful display of skill, this time in novel form.

Sea Hearts continues this showcasing of her skill, with language and narrative. Reading Lanagan is like watching the world through aged glass. The world and its characters are identifiable but there is a ripple, a distortion that separates us.

It’s in this distortion that Margo plays, drawing on folklore and legends, weaving them with the mundane, creating modern day folktales, presenting us with scenarios but passing no judgement.

She’s often pigeon-holed as a YA writer ( no doubt in part due to her very early works) but she’s had more than a toe dipped in the speculative fiction community for some time now. I tend to view her work as mature fiction, with depth and power. I would certainly recommend her to any intelligent reader 14 years and up.

An example of the depth of the novel is the multitude of angles that you can approach Sea Hearts from. It’s a clever weaving of the legend of the Selkie into a moving narrative; it’s a comment on relationships between men and women, mothers and sons, the value of women, love, bullying, justice and revenge.

In simple plot terms, it’s the story of the Witch Misskaella who summons seal women from the sea to partner the men of the island and the ramifications of this action. The story is told from the perspective of various people, from different generations, who are connected to the consequences or the Island in some fashion.

One of the highlights is Lanagan’s talent in shaping the English language to her own ends. She’s joyously crude in some instances;

She snorted and matter flew out of one of her nostrils and into the blanket. She knitted on savagely. The bone’s rustling in the weed sent my boy-sacks up inside me like startled mice into their hole.

Daniel Mallet on meeting the witch Misskaella

and powerfully understated in others

Ean, Froman, Hugh. Where do I begin with the questions I cannot ask her?….’But whose?’ I say. ‘Whose are you? What man of this isle got you on our Miss?’

Trudle Callisher on discovering Misskaella had been a mother.



Whereas the folktale often presents black and white characters – the handsome prince, the evil witch; Lanagan gives us a villain( if one can call her that), who is both a victim of a community and her own actions. Misskaella’s actions cause others grief, pain and loss, but there is a sense that her actions if not justified, are human and understandable.

I was storm tossed by this novel, sympathising with Misskaella in one chapter, finding myself disgusted with her the next. Whether a story is a comedy or a tragedy often depends on where you stop the telling. We finish on a happy note with Sea Hearts but the reader has had to sail through a storm of sorrows to get there.

Sea Hearts will captivate and manipulate you. It will raise questions for you. When you emerge from Lanagan’s spell you won’t quite be the same.



This book was a review copy provided by Allen & Unwin
Profile Image for Wendy.
951 reviews137 followers
November 10, 2012
I think I would like to stay in this world almost forever.

This book isn't as difficult or challenging, emotionally, as Tender Morsels--or in structure, either. But it is engrossing and rewarding, and for all its "lyrical"ness, moves quickly without obfuscating. Each narrator in turn endeared him- or herself to me, so that I hated to leave each one behind, but quickly got caught up in the new one.

One thing that puzzles me, that I'd have to pay attention to on a reread: I had thought the book was set in, maybe, the seventeenth or eighteenth century. It spans multiple generations, but not THAT many, and later chapters seem to be set in the 1920s or later, I'd approximate. Of course none of it is the real world, but it could be... The early parts must be the late nineteenth century, and I suppose things were a little backward on the island.

If you enjoy at all a British Isles-type setting, and British/Irish folklore, this is a book you'll want to check out.

Addition 11/9/2012: had the pleasure of seeing Lanagan speak today, and I got to ask her about the time period. Her answer was interesting--she said she wanted to make it seem that this might be something that could happen in our real world, so she didn't want to set it too early. The turn of the twentieth century, with some liberties, was how I understood it. I thought perhaps there was some magical-realism in the time, sort of like with Brigadoon, such that Misskaella's childhood was actually long in the past, but she said it all takes place within three-or-so normal generations. Also, somewhat to my disappointment, sea hearts are made up. I guess I can strike it off my "google this when you have time" list. I was all ready to set off in pursuit of them and hoped maybe it was an Australian name for something they carry at my local shellfish shop.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 10 books136 followers
November 25, 2014
This book very much crept up on me. I picked it up to finish off my Aust Women Writers quota and because I’m trying to read some of Australia’s preeminent speculative fiction writers. I thought I was reading a lovely YA fairytale, an olde worlde tale of witches and selkies, and I was enjoying it well enough though it wasn’t leaving any great impression on me.

That was until I got to the story of Bet Winch and realised I was actually reading an evisceration of the ways men and women treat one another and, in particular, the ways men can think of and treat women, of what they value and scorn. Parts of the book are painful to read: the weakness of humans, our susceptibility to desire, our unthinking cruelty to those we ‘love’.

This book could easily have been an indictment of the men of Rollrock, and of men in general (or even of women’s jealousy of and cruelty to other women), but by shifting deftly from narrator to narrator Lanagan makes us sympathetic to the frailties of everyone in this story.

I would be reluctant to shelve this as YA: do we really want to shatter romantic illusions of relationships so early? But really, it’s pretty brilliant and I’m now very, very keen to read Tender Morsels.
Profile Image for Leslie.
2,570 reviews203 followers
August 17, 2016
2 stars for the audiobook & 2.5 stars for the book itself

Inspired by the folklore of Orkney & the Sheltland Islands about selkie folk (seals that become transformed to human shape). It seems a bit of a strange choice of topic for an Australian author but that is besides the point.

About the audio edition, narrated by Eloise Oxer and Paul English -- I don't know why it was but both narrators had sibilant S sounds that caused a screechy effect on all my listening devices which was extremely irritating. That is probably the studio's fault rather than the narrators but it did cause me to knock off a half star.

The book itself was told in a series of first person narratives. I felt that Misskaella Prout's character (which was pivotal to the whole plot) flip-flopped depending on the author's whim which bothered me.
Profile Image for starryeyedjen.
1,640 reviews1,231 followers
June 2, 2015
I quite enjoyed this evocative, otherworldly tale of witches and vengeance and sea wives. It was pretty miserable what the town put Misskaella through, but in turn, it was also pretty awful what she unleashed on the town, especially those whose only transgression was being born to one of the townsfolk who'd wronged her in some way.

Told in alternating perspectives, from the witches to the men of Rollrock Island to the women who deserved better than men who sought out sea wives, Sea Hearts -- known as The Brides of Rollrock Island in the States -- tells the tale of three generations of families on the island and how they succumbed to the witchcraft and devilry of making wives of the seals that made the island their home in the spring.

It's depressing for the most part, but it's also a fine indicator of human nature and the lengths some will go to for happiness, real or imagined. I greatly enjoyed this performance; the narrators were perfect for this piece. Another great novel to add to my Aussie shelf.
Profile Image for Lyndsey.
126 reviews3,107 followers
September 2, 2012
4.5 Stars

There is something so disturbing about this book that keeps it just shy of five stars. All her work is so engaging but at the same time, there is something unsettling in the way that she writes. Something dark is afoot within her prose.

Once again, she serves up a story involving birthing strange fairy children with a side of beastiality. I'm sensing a theme here. But strangely I just can't peel my eyes away.

Loved it. Love her.
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