Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan - my first thoughts.
I don't read fantasy. I need to start by getting this straight. Some people love the genre, and when I was a teenager I did too, overindulging to the point of not ever wanting to read another fantasy novel again. With this in mind, I came to Sea Hearts a little reluctantly. I knew Margo Lanagan could write. I had been surprised by her last novel Tender Morsels, startled, mainly by her play with language which seemed to eclipse some of the fantasy elements of the story.
Sea Hearts is even more engaging that Tender Morsels. There is a fantasy of sorts underpinning the book, but Sea Hearts plants its footprint firmly in the realm of Myth and therefore in the real hopes and fears of humankind. It draws on the legend of the Selkie, gentle sea women who step out of their seal skins to raise families with fishermen, spending their lives longing for a world they have left behind. In Margo's skillful hands we are woven a tale that resonates with so much in our real lives, that feeling that we often have that we do not belong in this world, a longing for something that is missing from our hearts, a certain melancholy that we all experience at one time or another, the idea that love is temporary and that no matter how strong a relationship can be there is always a longing for something more.
Lanagan presents her story with all the linguistic beauty of a Michael Ondaatje novel. The story is divided between the characters who narrate it. Her characters take this simple myth and each of them presents a different facet of the story. Told side by side the perspectives illuminate each other providing a richness to the tale that would not be there if the story were told from only one perspective. Sea Hearts is an assured novel told by a writer at the top of her game. She is a multi award winning author and her use of language is startlingly original.
If you are a lover of fantasy, think more "The Secret of Rowan Innish" or perhaps "Let the Right One In". If you, like me, are unlikely to pick up a fantasy novel, then think Ondaatje, or perhaps Marquez. Whatever it is that brings you to Lanagan's work, when you have found her, pass her on to others. Lanagan deserves a wider readership. In terms of the great women of Australian writing, she is too often overlooked. Do yourself a favour and look closer at Sea Hearts.