I try to avoid picking favourites, but this is for me the best story so far in Michael Eisele's new collection. As it's the penultimate story, we're in a sort of World Cup last-minute nail-biter situation.
'The Selchie' begins with an Inuit woman in difficulties. Onnai's tribe has been driven out of its old hunting grounds by rivals. She seeks a kind of salvation in a lone kayak voyage, and this part of the story is written with loving attention to detail. This takes her far from her ancestral seas to a strange land where very hairy, gruff-voiced people show her some kindness. The man who helps her, who calls himself 'Eean', gives her a new name, to reflect the fact that she appears to be a seal-woman. She helps Eean's people when they, too, struggle to harvest the sea. And eventually the two become lovers, having already forged a strong friendship despite their differences.
This is a very positive, uplifting story. It offers a near-flawless melding of Eisele's two main preoccupations - the rich cultures of 'uncivilised' peoples and the marginal people of Western civilisation. He also mixes history with myth, as Inuit kayakers did indeed reach Scotland in the late medieval period. The Celtic legend of the seal-folk dovetails with Onnai's deep desire to be at one with creatures her people exploit but also revere. No summary from me can do justice to this novella. Please seek out this book if you can. We need more humane, intelligent fiction in these crass and brutal times.
It's been a long but very rewarding running review, and now the finish line looms into view. Thanks against to the author, and of course to Tartarus for providing me with a review copy. Next, the final story, which seems to be about nuns...