Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford

Secrets of the Sea House isn’t something I’d ever have picked up of my own accord, and it had the great misfortune of being read at the same time as the phenomenal S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst (my absolute favourite read in a long time.) Despite all that, I ended up enjoying it much more than I expected to.

There’s always a sense of obligation with book club books that I’ve stupidly left until the week of the monthly meeting, then have to tear through at lightning speed. I usually end up resenting the book a bit (which I know is daft and entirely my fault, but still, it happens.) In this instance though, I actually found myself enjoying the surprising little story so much that I set S. aside for a few days to read this in increasingly lengthy bursts.

Secrets of the Sea House is told from three different perspectives. There’s modern-day Ruth, who begins renovating an old sea house only to find the remains of a “mermaid baby” buried under the floorboards. And then in regular flashbacks to 1860, there’s vicar Alexander and his wild maid Moira. I enjoyed the historical sections more than the modern ones. Ruth’s backstory heaps tragedy atop tragedy, to the point that I couldn’t empathise with her as a “real” character because her misfortune felt too unlikely. But Alexander’s quest to discover the truth behind selkies and mermaids made for a compelling story, as did the clearance of the island under its cruel governor. Towards the end, there’s quite a long time jump in which I would love to have read much, much more about Moira. She was easily my favourite of the three, torn between her desire for revenge for her family’s deaths, and her loyalty and devotion toward Alexander.

If I’d have judged this book by its cover, I would have guessed it to be a run-of-the-mill romance, so am very glad I was persuaded to give it a chance.

[Read from 16-19 January 2017]

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