Salt and Skin

Eliza Henry-Jones

Salt and Skin
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Salt and Skin

Eliza Henry-Jones

Grief-stricken over the loss of her husband, Luda Managan and her two teenaged children try to make a home for themselves on a collection of harsh and haunted Scottish islands.

Luda, a photographer, is mesmerised by the extraordinary magic of the islands and soon finds herself condemned by the local community after publishing images documenting the death of a local child. Alienated, Luda turns her attention to the records from the 17th century island witch-hunts and the fragmented life stories of the executed women. Min, restless and strong, tries to fill up the space in their family left by her father. She soon finds comfort in the depths of icy North Sea and in an unlikely friendship with the elderly and irreverent local “witch”. The only thing that beautiful and gifted Darcy cares about is getting marks high enough for entry into university - one very, very far away from his mother.

Until he meets the wild foundling, Theo.

When a tragic accident unleashes ghosts and the echoes of long-ago violence and betrayal into their lives, the Managans are forced to confront the ways that history both hinders us and sets us free.

Drawing on records of the witch trials and folk tales of the northern isles, Salt and Skin is full of tenderness, magic and yearning. It’s a meditation on the absence of women’s voices and stories in history, and the unexpected ways that sites of long-ago trauma continue to haunt the living.

Review

Salt and Skin is a siren’s song, a nightingale’s lullaby; haunting and beguiling, it sinks you into the depths of the dark Scottish islands mythologised by tales of witches and selkies, of sorcery and singing whales. But what is fairytale and what is reality? This is the question facing the Managan family.

Photographer Luda Managan takes her two children, Darcy and Min, to the magical Scottish islands to document the effects of climate change. However, she is soon condemned and rebuked by the community when she publishes images of the death of a local child. As she is ostracised, Luda begins her investigation into the history of the 17th-century witch- hunts and the personal lives of the women who were executed, and who have long had their voices silenced and ignored.

Running alongside this is the mystery of the boy, Theo, who, when he was younger, washed up on the shores of the island with no memory of where he had come from or who he belonged to. To the community he is a wild foundling, a fae changeling, a selkie who’s lost his seal skin and must stay on land as a human. All his life he has been treated as the local folktale, and not the confused young boy who longs for the sea to answer his questions. When Darcy and Min befriend him, together they unleash the ghosts of the past, laying bare the mystery of the isles, and the secret lives the community masks.

Beneath the dark allure of this Celtic setting, Salt and Skin is ultimately a tender story about family – both the ones that we are born into and the ones we make for ourselves – and how, through trial and adversity, family will always anchor each other down amid the tumultuous seas that threaten to tear them apart.

Aurelia Orr is from Readings Kids

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