On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings—and to catch their wives.
The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment.
Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.
In this powerful but grim tale set on a rugged, windswept island, an unlovely, embittered young woman discovers that she can magically pull human beings out of seals: "I drew each speck toward and into the man-shape at his center. A head-blur parted from the body-blur; some limbs came good, splitting from the main shine. Then suddenly the man's outline sharpened within the seal." She uses this power first to find herself a lover and then to take revenge on the people of Rollrock Island, who she believes have slighted her, providing each man with a supernaturally beautiful seal-woman (for a price). Decades later, the jilted human women have all left the island, leaving the spell-struck men with their captive wives, who cannot always hide their yearning for the sea. Lanagan (Tender Morsels) casts the traditional selkie tale in a poetic yet deeply antiromantic form. What, she asks, would such a relationship truly be like? How might it satisfy, but also destroy those involved? A beautifully written story featuring a thoroughly realized setting and cast. Ages 14 up.