Tease by Mina Kelly
When Barnabas rescues a stranger from a storm, he knows he’s in for a tempestuous time. Lust wars with more altruistic feelings to paralyze Barnabas until the stranger makes the first move for him — and then there’s no stopping either of them.
Inside, outside, against the wall, and even occasionally on the bed. But Barnabas starts to wonder if the sex is a distraction from something more important, something his English language challenged new lover isn’t saying. When the truth is finally revealed, the betrayal cuts deep, and for Barnabas, it may be too little, too late.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not sure I’ve read a book like this where one of the couple couldn’t talk or communicate. It makes for an interesting hook, in addition to the Selkie shifter legend. For a novella, the story is clever enough to keep my interest for the most part though the characters are uneven and the pacing choppy. It’s a different kind of story and for that, stands out in the masses of shifter stories.
Barnabas (quite an awkward name) is an artist that makes his rather meager living by a rocky shore somewhere in England. During a particularly brutal storm, he finds an injured man washed up on the shore. After nursing the man back to health, the two develop a strong chemistry. Eventually Barnabas realizes his lover is actually a Selkie, a mythical creature that uses a skin to shift between a man and a seal. As his lover longs to return to the sea, Barnabas realizes he could simply not repair the skin and thus his lover would stay a man and more importantly, with him.
The story is character driven as the relationship between Barnabas and his lover develops and then he’s faced with the dilemma of what to do. Told through Barnabas’ third person perspective, the lover is actually nameless and mute for the entire novella. Eventually Barnabas settles on calling his lover “Tease” for the sexual teasing he’s prone to but we never learn his real name. Likewise the lover never speaks. He barks when speaking to the other seals and makes rasping noises but never vocalizes or writes.
Supposedly he communicates with his body, eyes, hands, and soundless words – a language that Barnabas claims he understands. Perhaps this is true, but I found that aspect of the story hard to get into. For starters there is almost no dialogue since there is limited interaction with the isolated town and Barnabas infrequently speaks to ask a question or make a statement. This keeps the writing very internal as Barnabas thinks about what his lover could mean, worries about his own insecurities and never wants to be alone, and experiences a wide range of emotions. In between this musing are sex scenes, since most of the interaction between Barnabas and the Selkie is through sex.
The pace slows down some around the middle of the novella when the sex scenes feel repetitive. The tone of the story feels very circular as well with a similar way the days play out. They have sex, eat, Barnabas worries about some imagined slight, they have sex again and are happy. This is only broken when Barnabas finally realizes his lover is a Selkie and responds with disgust and anger. Here the story picks up some but Barnabas is a difficult character to like. The lover is forgettable since he has little way of communicating his own desires and wants and Barnabas comes across needy, insecure, and childish. He is waspish and quick to snap but can be generous when happy. It’s only at the very end that Barnabas comes across with any maturity and intelligence.
Although neither of the lead characters really sparks much interest, the story is different enough to be worth reading. The mostly silent exchange between the lovers can create a much slower dynamic that may not appeal to all readers. However the quirk is inventive and the final resolution is questionable up until the very end, mostly because you’re never sure just how Barnabas will react. This isn’t a story I’d read again but I’m not sorry I read it.