Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review: The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

Strange things are happening on the remote and snowbound archipelago of St. Hauda’s Land. Magical winged creatures flit around the icy bogland, albino animals hide themselves in the snow-glazed woods, and Ida Maclaird is slowly turning into glass. Ida is an outsider in these parts who has only visited the islands once before. Yet during that one fateful visit the glass transformation began to take hold, and now she has returned in search of a cure.

The cover of The Girl with Glass Feet and the flap copy pretty much lasso'd me into reading this book.  My imagination went wild picturing things.  A harsh, snowy landscape inhabited by strange creatures.  Magic.  Fairies.  A cruel, spiteful witch.  A curse placed on a desperate young girl, and the handsome prince that would save her.  True love.  A quest!

 Oh, I do so love a quest!  It gives meaning to hiking!

  So I nestled in for the evening, and with trembling anticipation I began to read. 

After a bit, a little voice in my head began whispering:

"I wonder when the fairies are gonna show up..." 


"The witch should be making an appearance anytime now..." 

Then the whining began.

"But he's not swooooooonyyyyy!" 

The Girl with Glass Feet was nothing like I imagined.  I was expecting a cute little entertaining fairytale, but what I got was something I like to call:






A thinking book

It wasn't an easy read at first, but that was entirely my fault; I dug in the heels of my preconceived ideas, and wasn't giving the story a chance.  Several times I was tempted to toss it.  I'm very, very glad I didn't.  Once I let go and trusted the author, I began to enjoy the book with a renewed appreciation for storytelling. 

Ida Maclaird returns to St. Hauda's Land to find a cure for her mysterious glass ailment, and enlists the help of a local young man to help her.  Introverted and a touch neurotic, Midas reluctantly agrees.  Ida wants to deeply connect with someone because of her condition, but Midas is so shy and afraid of showing emotion that their relationship is awkward.  As the story unfolds, several characters are introduced and a common thread weaves them together.  

I brushed up on the meanings of metaphor, simile and allegory, jotted a few lines about each character, and thought...and thought, and thought some more until I figured out what I think the author is trying to say.  

Go me! Go Book Fiend! 

Of course, as these things go--and what makes literature so interesting and fun--is that my interpretation may well be completely different than yours.  There's no right or wrong answer.  I won't discuss my interpretation here because I don't want to spoil anything for you in case you plan to read it, but I firmly believe that how we interpret this story--and how we feel about its ending-- says something deeply personal about ourselves.  Oh, and there are magical creatures, and strange things happening on St. Hauda's Island.  But no witches or fairies, and it's all the better for it.  Honest.  

Ali Shaw's story is a well imagined fairytale that would make a great book club selection.  It wasn't until I finished the novel that I learned The Girl with Glass Feet won The Desmond Elliott Prize in the UK.  

In addition to the questions in the reader's guide, I wonder:

*Why did the author choose glass for Ida Maclaird's transformation instead of, lets say, stone or graphite or fudge covered oreos?

*Why her feet?

*Why does the other character's transformation begin in another part of the body?

It took me a few days to fully appreciate this novel, and it will stay with me for a while, so for that I'll add it to my favorites, and will most likely read it again.  The cadence of the writing felt a bit off, but that could just be me (I'm sort of nerdy about sentence rhythms).  The cold, monochromatic setting totally fits the theme of the story.  The author's use of stumbling dialogue (err, umm) was annoying at first, but once I changed my mindset, even that made sense to me.  

Overall, The Girl with Glass Feet was :
Give this one a try.  Be open to it, and let me know what you think. It's not the usual fodder, but that's a good thing.  Sometimes we need to exercise our literary muscle.

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Thanks for the feedback. Be well, and happy reading!

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