Thursday, 3 May 2012

Sea Hearts

Novel by Margo Lanagan

Also published as The Brides of Rollrock Island

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.


  1. i love when you post on this blog because i keeprunning out of things to read and it always reminds me to get off my ass and do something about it :)

  2. I love it, too, but it's not good for my bank account! I love Margo's work. But I don't read enough of it. And this post is perfect. I agree. Agree. Agree. Off to find book.