Monday, 3 September 2018

Girl with Glass Feet

Today's book comes to you courtesy of Charlotte who stopped by and commented on the review of Keeper of Lost Things. When I clicked on her profile I found 'The Girl with Glass Feet' on her, very brief, list of favourite books and was intrigued by the curious title. They had a copy at the City library so I hopped on my bike to get it; luckily I was on late shifts last week so it didn't matter that I sat up late reading. 

This is the story if Ida, and the story of Midas: what a lovely prophetic choice of name. But it is also the story of Henry and Evaline, and of Carl and Freya. There are lots of stories going on within the narrative, with long nurtured sadnesses lingering down the years, and the generations. But firstly there is the magical realism, which is something I love to find in literature. I remember, years ago, talking to someone about Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and hearing the expression 'magical realism', and instinctively understanding what it meant. Ida's feet are made of glass, and not in a good way. The glass is spreading, slowly, and she has returned to the place she believes it all began, hoping ... The strange, isolated island feels vaguely Scottish, or maybe Scandinavian; the community is both close knit and rather elusive, the kind of place people seem to have come to escape, and the locals find it hard to leave. Midas does not offer to help her, in fact he decides repeatedly not to help, but she wheedles her way into his life almost by instinct, he is one of the few people who might be able to help her. The story takes us back and forth in time, telling us the background to his life and his parents. Carl, an old family friend, has lent his cottage to Ida, but when he sees her again he is reminded of her dead mother Freya for whom he had nurtured an unrequited passion. He rather unpleasantly starts to interfere in the slowly blossoming relationship between Ida and Midas. I think what makes the story so effective is the atmosphere that Ali Shaw creates as he writes, the place is so vivid, and it feels like the kind of place where supernatural things could be real; the story becomes as much about the place as it is about Ida. 

"From an aeroplane the three main islands of the St Hauda's Land archipelago looked like the swatted corpse of a blob-eyed insect. The thorax was Gurm Island, all marshland and wooded hills. The neck was a natural aqueduct with weathered arches through which the sea flushed, leading to the eye. That was the towering but drowsy hill of Lomdendol Tor on Lomdendol Island, which (local supposition had it) first squirted St Hauda's Land into being. The legs were six spurs of rock extending from the south-west coast of Gurm Island, trapping the sea in sandy coves between them. The wings were a wind-torn flotilla of uninhabited granite islets in the north. The tail's sting was the sickle-shaped Ferry Island in the east, the quaint little town of Glamsgallow a drop of poison welling on its tip." (p.22)

I had originally assumed that the author was a woman, but then realised he was a man, and it did explain the one aspect of the story that frustrated me. The women in the story, including Ida, are treated somewhat as muses, people who inspire emotions in the men who encounter them. Henry falls in love with Evaline (Midas' mother) but no longer wants her after her husband's death because she has become what he sees as a shell of her former self. Carl idolises Freya, is angry about her death and responds by wanting to control Ida. Emiliana remains devoted to a husband who has distanced himself from her. Even Ida's role in the story seems to be to help Midas break out of the unemotional straitjacket that he has become confined by. Having said that, this in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the book, it was utterly enthralling and I even enjoyed the fact that the questions, the mystery of the glass, all remained unanswered.

"He stared.
Kept staring.
Peeled off the socks entirely.
Her toes were pure glass. Smooth, clear, shining glass.  Glinting crescents of light edged each toenail and each crease between the joints of each digit. Seen through her toes, the silver spots on the bed sheets diffused into metallic vapours. The ball of her foot was glass too, but murkier, losing its transparency in a gradient until, near her ankle, it reached skin: matt and flesh-toned like any other. And yet ... Those few inches of transition astonished him even more than her solid glass toes. Bone materialised faintly inside the ball of her foot, then became lily-white and precise nearer her unaltered ankle, shrouded along the way by translucent red ligaments in the denser layers. In the curve of her instep wisps of blood hung trapped like twirls of paint in marbles. And there were places in the glass where the petrification was incomplete. Here was a pinprick mole, there a fine blond hair." (p.62)

Do visit Ali Shaw's website, his drawings are wonderful, they will definitely inspire you to read his books.

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