What happens when you bring the truth of who you are into the light? In her impressive debut novel, The Sea House (St. Martin’s Press/April 15, 2014/ISBN: 978-1250043344/$25.99), author Elisabeth Gifford introduces readers to characters who are forced to dig up the pain and secrets of their past in order to let the fresh air of faith and grace purify and heal the broken places in their heart.
Gifford was inspired to write The Sea House after coming across a letter in The Times archives from 1809, in which a Scottish schoolmaster claimed to have spotted a mermaid. Weaving the ancient Gaelic myth of the selkies into her story, she has created a sweeping tale of hope and redemption that is an ode to the healing readers can find when they acknowledge the truth about themselves.
Readers of The Sea House are taken back to 1860 and meet Alexander Ferguson, a newly ordained vicar and amateur scientist who takes up his new parish on the poor, isolated Scottish island of Harris. He hopes to uncover the truth behind the legend of the selkies — mermaids or seal people who have been sighted off the northern coasts of Scotland for centuries. Family legend says Alexander is actually descended from selkies. As he struggles to be a good pastor, his maid Moira faces the eviction of her family by Lord Marstone, whose family owns the island. Their time on the island will forever change the course of their lives, but the white house where the vicar lives on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after they are gone.
Readers may identify much of their own faith journey in the vicar’s story. “Alexander says he believes in grace, but he really believes in a formula where his particular failures cannot really be forgiven,” Gifford reveals. “So he tries incredibly hard to become a better person. Only after he sees how miserably he fails as a pastor does he let go and accept the mystery of grace.”
It will be more than a century before the house reluctantly gives up its secrets, when Ruth and Michael buy the grand, yet dilapidated, building and begin to turn it into a home. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery: Buried under the house are the tiny bones of a baby whose fragile legs are fused together. Is it a mermaid child? Who buried the bones and why? To heal her own demons, Ruth feels she must discover the secrets of her new home — but the answers to her questions may lie in her own traumatic past.
Connecting with the truth of one’s story is a critical theme in The Sea House. “I suppose there’s a human impulse to invent a better self so other people, and even God, will like us more and not turn away from us,” Gifford explains. “Jesus came to a very real and ordinary world, and that’s where God meets us. He sees all of us and doesn’t turn away. For Christians, we have the option of rewriting our stories around the extravagant love shown to us on the cross, if we choose to.”
About the Author
Elisabeth Gifford grew up in a vicarage in the industrial Midlands. She studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University and has published poems in Cinnamon Press and The Oxford Magazine. She’s also written articles for The Times and The Independent, along with a nonfiction book, The House of Hope (2011), a biography of Dr. Joyce Hill who opened a rescue center for abandoned babies in China. The Sea House has been shortlisted for the Historical Writer’s Association Crown debut award. Her second novel, Return to Fourwinds, will be released in 2015.
Gifford has a degree in creative writing from Oxford OUDCE and an M.A. in creative writing from Royal Holloway College. She is married to an illustrator, and together they have three children. The family divides their time between Kingston, near London, and the Hebrides in Scotland.