YA Friday: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Friday, October 05, 2012

Title: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Genre: YA, fantasy
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012
Source: NetGalley
Read for: Review

On Rollrock Island, an uneasy past troubles the women -- past memories of mysterious women from the sea, of seals taking on human shapes. When young misfit Misskaella learns that she has the power to influence the seals to come to the island, take their human forms and entrance the island's inhabitants, she uses it to gain both money and retribution. However, despite the perfection of the seal-women and the apparent happiness of the arrangement, a dark cloud hovers over Rollrock Island, threatening to shatter the tenuous peace.

Did that summary sound weird to you? Because taken at face value, The Brides of Rollrock Island is an incredibly bizarre, twisted story. However, coupled with Margo Lanagan's entrancing writing and compelling characters, it develops into something mysterious, beautiful, and disturbing.

I have heard nothing but praise for Margo Lanagan's writing, and while I have not yet taken the opportunity to read some of her previous work, my expectations were certainly met, if not exceeded, by The Brides of Rollrock Island. There is a sort of lilt to her writing, a musicality, that made me feel as if I was inhaling a dusty, beautiful legend. In addition, Lanagan has an excellent trick of giving away just enough to keep the reader completely entranced. The Brides of Rollrock Island was told by several first-person narrators, all of whom knew certain sides of the story and made certain small contributions. Hints and rumors slowly blossomed out into a whole story, but not before I was antsy with uncertainty and curiosity.

I frequently complain of wanting more information from a story -- of feeling as if the author didn't give me enough to be satisfied. The Brides of Rollrock Island was also guilty of this crime on the surface, but it was executed in such a way that while I still had some questions and certainly wouldn't have complained of more history and backstory (my biggest questions -- who was the painting of? And why did Misskaella and Trudle have their abilities?) the answers are hinted at if not explained outright. And the mystery adds to the haunting atmosphere of the story.

I was also quite satisfied by the different voices telling the story. The Brides of Rollrock Island is not about one person -- it is a brief history of the island, and the many voices giving that history are all authentic and all participated in a different way. Missing, of course, is a story told in the voice of a seal-wife -- we do not ever get the chance to fully understand them, only how they are perceived by those who love but also inadvertently enslave them.

The Brides of Rollrock Island also raises some subtle questions about feminism. The brides are treated with the utmost love and devotion by their husbands and sons -- they are practically worshipped. However, they are deprived of any choice -- they are only permitted to experience life within the bounds drawn for them, which leaves them constantly aching. I enjoyed searching this subtle question out while reading.

The Brides of Rollrock Island is an interesting, unique little book. Beautifully written and with layers of depth, it is a rewarding read well off the beaten path.

4 stars

Warnings: Descriptions of nudity, a few scenes of moderate sensuality


  1. "There is a sort of lilt to her writing, a musicality, that made me feel as if I was inhaling a dusty, beautiful legend."

    I think it's rubbed off! What a gorgeous way of putting it. Just that one sentence would have been enough to send me running for the long-neglected review copy I've got stashed on my shelves - the rest of the glowing review just seals the deal... Wonderful post, thanks! :)

    1. Oh, thanks. :) I hope you like the book! I was really impressed with Margo Lanagan and am definitely going to read more of her books.

  2. I've always been fascinated by selkies. I'll have to check this one out!

    1. I had no idea these weird creatures were selkies! I had to look it up on wikipedia after your comment. I kind of thought Margo Lanagan had just randomly made them up. Now that I know they are an actual mythological thing I might need to find more books about them.


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