Of all the houses I remember with love the house called Tigh na Rosen is the sweetest smelling and the brightest
begins Thomson's account of his lifelong fascination with seal lore.
I don't know why it begins this way; the house is of little importance to the remainder of the book and is only referred to once or twice in passing. Perhaps this is a mental association on the author's part, the place he lived when he first became interested in selchies, starting with his mother's cousin La's reminisces of a chidhood neighbor lady who was suspected of being a seal. That wouldn't be out of character, for this is certainly a highly personal account, wandering where the author wills and feeling no responsibility to conform to any scholarly principles or narrative order.
Or perhaps Thomson is setting the reader up, lulling you with childhood memories and pretty houses and innocent games at pretty little Patsy's birthday party so he can kick the feet out from under you in the next scene. The narrator (presumably the author as a small boy, although he never absolutely states this) slips away from the party to explore alone. He wants to investigate the fisherman's bothy while it's uninhabited. He enters and in the dark stumbles over the body of a mutilated woman, moaning in pain. David vomits from the trauma and climbs onto a table, where he huddles until a fisherman finds him and soothes him by telling him the victim was a selchie, not a human woman. This seems to make everything just dandy for the little boy, who has a hearty snack and listens to a story about more seal-killing.
Like many of the stories Thomson hears throughout the book, this one presents selchies as, if not the same as humans, possessed of equal intelligence and emotion. In their human forms, their appearance is indistinguishable from that of regular humans. They feel the same love and grief and pity that we feel, and sometimes help the needy or save lost children from harm And these are the assertions of the people who kill them
, the people who can describe the heartbroken weeping of a seal mother for her murdered baby and the sorrow in her eyes as the same as a woman's, and explain in the next breath, "Ye'd no soon stun your seal than ye'd set to and skin him, ye understand, because if ye left him there he might come to life and go back into the sea, while ye turned round."
I guess life is tough and sometimes you really need that seal blubber. And people suck.
Thomson himself makes few judgements and speaks only enough to keep the stories coming (except for that one bit where's checking out the hot girl who really wants a gas stove). His prose style is lovely without overshadowing the individual voices of the people he interviews. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest and folklore and not too much sensitivity to accounts of animal cruelty and grinding poverty and rape and abuse and possibly letting retarded kids drown.