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This issue’s cover shows Neil Gaiman (photo © Kelli Bickman) with his book The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch illustrated by Dave McKean. Neil Gaiman is interviewed by Nicholas Tucker. Thanks to Bloomsbury for their help with this November cover.
Myth and reality combine in this story about Grace, a teenage girl who discovers that her mother is a selkie and her inheritance is an obsession with the sea and a sheen of velvety fur which begins to cover her body as she reaches puberty. Within this thought-provoking framework, Harper examines the recurring preoccupations of adolescence – relationships, both romantic and platonic, family tensions and self-image.
Grace’s mother has been absent for as long as she can remember – the only evidence of her existence a series of exquisite gifts on each of her birthdays and her father’s continuing melancholy at his own guilt and loss. When she takes her first tentative steps towards first love she is convinced that her body fur will be repellent to whoever sees it. When her relationship ends in its infancy, her worst fears are confirmed and it is not until her near drowning in a storm-ravaged sea that she realises the lifelong friendship she has enjoyed with Matt – a close neighbour – is based on a very real and enduring love. What should be most apparent to us rarely is.
Grace is rescued from the waves by her mother, who risks her life to save her daughter and so consolidates the mother/daughter bond, giving Grace a fixed point from which she can learn, grow and accept. The analogies drawn here are convincing and relevant and the narrative is deceptively simple, providing an accessible forum for debate or introspection. The selkie theme may strain credibility for some readers, but others – perhaps most often girls – will find it an intriguing platform for very real dilemmas. VR