A young boy who has just moved into a house with his family is distraught because his newborn sister has serious health problems and nobody is certain as to whether she will make it or not—so much so that they haven’t even given a name to the baby yet. The house is in poor condition and there’s an old garage behind it which Michael’s dad has warned him against entering as it threatens to collapse at any moment. Of course, the first thing Michael does is explore the garage where he is startled to find a man crouched and hidden and who is in very poor condition, and who has apparently been surviving by eating the various insects that populate the shed. Michael keeps his discovery secret while tending to the man’s needs though he eventually decides to share his finding with his new neighbour friend Mina, a spunky home-schooled girl who is fascinated with birds and likes to quote William Blake. Together they decide to move the stranger to a safer place and nurse him back to health and eventually discover that he is a strange and fascinating creature.
This story deals with feelings of fear, love and empathy, and while there is a strong fantasy component, it’s wholly grounded in a bleak reality. Maybe because of my own low spirits lately, I found it hard to cope with the ongoing threat to the baby’s life, and the descriptions of the dingy, dirty, bug-infested environment that much of the story takes place in was downright unpleasant for me. I listened to the audio version narrated by the author and while at first David Almond’s North English accent was perfectly charming, his somewhat monotonous and strangely paced narrative style was distracting at best. Still, I found a lot of things to like about Skellig, but the overall impression I was left with was ‘ick’. But I’m sure anyone who is not as easily put off by such details will quite like this sensitively told story in which hope and magic and fantasy eventually prevail.