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Thursday, January 14, 2010

"The Girl with Glass Feet" by Ali Shaw (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Ali Shaw Website
Order "The Girl with Glass Feet" Here (or read an extract)

INTRODUCTION: "The Girl with Glass Feet" is a book that could easily have escaped my attention without its being mentioned on Niall Harrison's Torque Control blog both in his intended 2010 reads and in the BSFA novel nominations post. Once I found out about it, luckily exactly when the US edition came out last week, a quick read of the excerpt linked above from Amazon made me get it on the spot and I really loved it to the end.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "The Girl with Glass Feet" stands at about 300 pages and follows mostly the two main protagonists' POVs: the girl of title, exuberant, lively, former competition diver Ida MacLaird and strange, introvert, photographer/flower seller Midas Crook, though there are interludes from several other important characters from the misfit/weirdos cast of the novel. A "quest" story with many allusions to and revelations from the past, the novel has two main attractions: the cast of strange characters (of recent novels reviewed here, Her Fearful Symmetry/Niffenegger is the closest in that aspect) and its beautiful life-affirming style.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The premise of this novel is quite arresting: after a short visit to her dead mother's birthplace, the Northern Archipelago of St. Hauda's Land, where strange people live and even stranger things happen, young Ida Maclaird's feet have transformed into glass and moreover, the "glass infection" in her body is slowly spreading. From a chance conversation with secluded island naturalist Henry Fuwa, she believes her "illness" is peculiar to St. Hauda's Land so she has to go back in order to have any hope of finding a cure. Planning to stay at her mother's school-friend house, Carl Mausen who is currently an academic still living on the islands, she meets by chance young Midas Crook, a photographer and flower seller, whose dead father of the same name was Carl's colleague and mentor, while his estranged mother has secrets of her own.

The energetic and brash girl, now reduced to crutches and desperation and the introvert and directionless boy do not seem that great a fit, but when time is short and fate knocks on the door, human companionship takes an added urgency and value.

As in many other novels with fantastic elements that take place in our day, nothing is really explained about those elements, so the "glass infestation" is taken as a given. Also even from the short overview above, it is clear that the relationships between the characters, dead and alive, are quite complicated and several twists are slowly revealed as the novel progresses.

However the most compelling element of "The Girl with Glass Feet" is its superb style: the description of the archipelago and its inhabitants, the interactions between the main characters and ultimately the life-affirming "message" of people coming together in extreme situation and making the most of what's possible for them which reminded me on occasions of the master of such EM Remarque whose novels about unlikely love in times of extreme danger are still the best I've ever read.

If there is one niggle I have about "The Girl with Glass Feet" is that its interesting cast of characters is not fully developed outside the main heroes and to a large extent Carl, while the novel rushes a bit towards its inevitable end. Another fifty or so pages and the novel would have been an A++ for me, but even so it is an A+ and already a contender for a slot in my best of 2010.

Highly, highly recommended and the author became another one to follow and get his next book asap.


Simcha said...

I just heard about this book as well, on another book blog, and was drawn by the interesting title and attractive cover, though this the first review I've actually seen on the book. Now I'm definitely adding it to my list of books to acquire.
Thanks for the great review!

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; I hope you will like it as much as I did

Laura said...

I, too, would like to have had some of the characters fleshed out a bit more - particularly Ida's parents. L


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