Contemporary Fiction - Fiction

The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding by Holly Ringland

Esther’s life has been one disaster after another, usually at her own hands, ever since her sister Aura walked into the ocean near the west coast Australian town they grew up in and never reemerged. A year later, her parents planned a memorial service for Aura, trying to honour her and also get the closure they needed. Esther is not ready for closure, but she finds herself skipping work and driving home to be with all of the friends and family she hasn’t seen since Aura disappeared, and in a way, so did Esther. The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding is part family epic, part mystery, and part (late) coming-of-age. Esther is a very full, challenging character, mired in her grief and anger, and lost without her older sister.

Holly Ringland sweeps us into a world where magic isn’t entirely out of the question, though still somewhat out of reach. Esther’s parents have multiple motives for Aura’s memorial: closure, of course, but they’ve also found some verses of Aura’s in an old diary, and want Esther to go back to Denmark, where Aura had been living before she came home in a state of depression and walked into the ocean. Can Esther figure out what happened to Aura in Denmark, they ask her, and after initial refusal, Esther comes around.

The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding is a frustrating book. It’s also a very lovely, uplifting book. It’s a tribute to messy, uncontrollable grief, of making terrible decisions and hurting those around you in your pain, and getting to apologize and think about what healing might look like. Ringland paints Esther’s pain onto the page without judgment, and while we may judge Esther for most of the novel, there comes a time when you start to cheer for her and feel like maybe, just maybe, she’s going to be okay.

The airy sort of magic, the connection back to lost generations of family and returning to your roots, the motif of water throughout the novel, and the fact that it’s a nice substantial book at over 500 pages – The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding has a lot in it to appeal to me, specifically. While I don’t think this a broad crowd-pleaser, I do think that those who are ready for the challenge of sitting with a character’s grief will find this especially rewarding. The notion of chosen family is also strong in this book, and the focus on the communities of people who care about us, no matter what we do or how long we’ve known them is rich with the complicated love that results from these bonds. It has its draggy moments, but overall this was a lovely read.


About the Author

HOLLY RINGLAND is a writer, storyteller, and television presenter. Her bestselling debut novel, THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART, has been published in 30 countries/territories and will stream globally in 2023 as a seven-part series on Amazon Prime, starring Sigourney Weaver.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Anansi International (Feb. 6 2024)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 560 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487012748
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487012748

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.

Alison Manley

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.