Book review – Deep Water by Lu Hersey

I originally wrote and published my review of Deep Water by Lu Hersey in September 2015. I really loved this book and have been awaiting the sequel avidly! The book has just been released in a fresh edition by Tangent Books, so I decided to re-publish the review in support of Lu’s beautiful writing.

Deep Water by Lu HerseyLu Hersey’s debut may have been written with a teen readership in mind, but it transcends the YA category with a tender, eerie tale of marine myths and magic. Lu won the 2013 Mslexia Children’s Novel Writing Award for Deep Water, and the gentle, almost stealthy start belies the thrill and beauty of this book.

Danni is your average 15-year-old with an average family life, or so she thinks until the day she comes home to find her mother missing and a mysterious pool of salt water on the kitchen floor.

Along with cheery sidekick Levi, Danni is packed off to stay with her dad in Cornwall and soon becomes immersed in a world where curses take the form of ‘poppets’, the weather can be charmed with knotted fabric and a select few can take the form of seals when the fancy takes them.

In Cornwall, Danni gets to meet a family member she thought was long deceased, and discovers an inherited trait that will change her life forever – she’s a sea person, and needs to transform into a seal on a regular basis to retain her health and sanity.

Drawing on Cornish Celtic legends, Lu has created a version of the metamorphous stories that’s far removed from the fey prettiness of most mermaid tales – changing is physically excruciating for Danni and a mackerel she consumes while in seal form is painfully thrown up when returned to human physiology. Details like this keep the fantasy elements firmly rooted in reality, and make you invest wholeheartedly in the flawed yet potent core characters.

The underwater scenes are powerfully written – atmospheric and charged with dazzling energy. “Out in the open water, we circle a swarm of ghostly jellyfish with cauliflower-like tentacles that have somehow survived the winter, drifting along on some invisible current. I swim through the darkening water, somersaulting round and round in sheer joy at the sensation and the freedom.”

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Film review – Song of the Sea

Song of the SeaDrawing on Celtic selkie myths, this animated film is utterly immersive. Mr and I attended a lunchtime showing at Watershed, Bristol, and were initially perturbed to find ourselves surrounded by parents with small children, including one babe in arms. However, as soon as the intricately detailed and gloriously colour-saturated images flooded the screen, all audience members grew still and silent, entranced by the story and the scenes.

The story opens with a little boy, Ben, and his mother Bronagh singing to her unborn child, while Ben’s father Conor looks on fondly.

Six years later, there’s no sign of Bronagh, and Conor is a broken man, with only his love for his son and daughter keeping him going. Ben finds his wordless younger sister, Saoirse, a terrible annoyance. He’s developed a fear of the sea that laps at the foot of their lighthouse home, and attracts his sibling in ways he cannot understand.

Weaving together ancient mythology and very relatable issues of grief, jealousy and sibling rivalry, the tale introduces peril and intrigue, partly in the form of an owl witch (a bit scary for little ones), several adventures in caves and a stormy night in a small boat at sea.

Song of the Sea1

There is humour to balance out the moments of fear, particularly with faithful and immense hound Cú and the Seanachaí with his slipshod memory and stories caught up in his beard. Moone Boy’s David Rawle is fantastic as Ben – developing from resentful to protective to heroic by the end of the film.

But above all, this is a film of exquisite beauty. Interviews with writer and director Tomm Moore reveal how the imagery has its roots in his own watercolours – and the fluid, textural style of each frame is intensely and painterly.

Song of the Sea – discovering the selkie coatFrom the underwater segments where sea jellies waft like abstract lampshades to the cross-country odyssey populated with every kind of rural Irish wildlife, to more intimate scenes such as Saoirse discovering her selkie coat for the first time (above), it’s a rolling array of treats for the eyes and for the heart. Song of the Sea is a gem of a film, emotionally and visually rich, and if you’re lucky moments from it will replay in your mind at unexpected times for days following.

The Song of the Sea is currently playing at Watershed, Bristol and cinemas throughout the UK. Gain an insight into the film here.

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