A thin book from a wild coast

A review of ‘Sealskin’ by Su Bristow

When I am coaching students on preaching, I occasionally promote some of the books I recommend on the basis that they are ‘thin’. This usually raises a smile, not least since the students are all holding down other jobs in addition to training to preach. For most of them, any time for study is strictly limited.  ‘Thin is good’, I say, with a knowing smile…

It is in a different fashion entirely that I describe Su Bristow’s book as ‘thin’. Celtic theologians like to talk about ‘thin’ places – where the veil between heaven and earth is so thin that the one can be felt through the other. In such a place, the wind of heaven can blow through fingers outstretched on earth, as if standing by an open window covered only in the thinnest gauze.

Su Bristow’s book, set on the wild Scottish Coast, is a ‘thin’ narrative. In it, the veil between legend and reality, magic and medicine, past and present is so thin as to defy description. Like taking a walk on an exposed clifftop above a stormy sea, this book is sure to ruffle your feathers more than a little. Like that same walk – it will leave you with a clear head and an appetite for more. In its pages you will find mystery, cruelty, kindness and community jostling for space in your imagination.

It is rare indeed that turning the last page of a book makes me want to turn the first all over again – but it happened here.

Karen Sullivan, whose publishing house Orenda, has brought this book to market, has an unparalleled talent for seeking out literary treasure and giving it the exposure it deserves. Like any other treasure-hunter, this is doubtless a combination of a good nose to find it, a brave heart to commit to it, and a back bent to the task of excavating it. Long may the excavations continue!

Sealskin

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