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by Seán Virgo ; illustrated by Javier Serrano Pérez

Pub Date: June 10th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-88899-971-9
Publisher: Groundwood

The traditional selkie story plays out in an arc of unrequited love and abandonment in this moody iteration.

Writing in terse prose cast into short lines, Virgo begins the story with the sailor going to sea as a boy but halfway through suddenly shifts point of view to that of the dreamy child born to the silent couple years later. The author shows similar indecision in describing the selkie’s garment. It is a “shadow” when the sailor steals it and a “roll of white skin” when the boy (rather than, as is more common, his mother) at last takes it down to the sea one night and swims “out under the old / moon’s path on the waters, leaving / his memories behind.” As if the sailor’s immoral act and the ensuing picture of failed domestic life in the narrative isn’t sad and remote enough, Pérez adds a full suite of subtly tinted sketches that depict either small, slumped figures in lonely landscapes or claustrophobic assemblages of floating bodies or heads, detached hands and surreal fish with human faces. As the lead victim, the selkie woman is most likely to draw sympathy from readers, but she is the least developed of the three central figures. Not much here for children, but the portentous atmosphere may prompt readers of the inked and pierced set to overlook the story’s overall lack of clarity or cohesion. (Folk tale. 14-18)