The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
In the continuing adventures of my search for something to read in a post-Harry Potter state of depression, I turned this week to Ali Shaw’s The Girl with Glass Feet. The novel has been billed as a modern fairy tale, which is fairly accurate if you make certain to associate ‘fairy tale’ with the Brothers Grimm rather than any sort of more Disneyified chick lit concoction.
Glass Feet is the story of a girl, Ida, who takes refuge on a fictional Nordic island after she inexplicably starts to turn to glass, starting with her feet. As the glass worryingly progresses from her toes across her foot, over her heel, and slowly up her leg, she seeks various means to cure her of the glassy curse with the hindrance and help of various Island-dwellers. Most prominent among them becomes Ida’s ‘prince,’ the introverted and emotionally-wrought Midas Crook, a photographer and part-time florist. While Ida’s story is unfolding, the novel also inserts lengthy flashbacks and memories to explore the past interpersonal connections of the islanders with whom Ida comes into contact.
Truth be told, it’s an interesting book and one which I’m still struggling to accurately discuss. I liked it, definitely like it, but I still can’t put my finger on how I actually feel about it, if that makes any sense. The tone of the book is slow and bleak, but with a constant flair for the whimsical. As you might imagine, this is a difficult needle to thread, but Mr. Shaw flawlessly maintains his prose as well as a general sense of realism despite the inherently magical nature of the narrative.
What did disappoint me, however, were the few times when Mr. Shaw just completely dropped the ball. Throughout the book, there are whispers of a fearful and mythical animal who turns all living creatures completely white when they meet its eyes. It is hinted at so often throughout the book that you assume it will play a large climactic role—perhaps even cure Ida somehow—but Mr. Shaw disappoints. Similarly, when a strange old woman who lives in isolation on the far end of the island is introduced, I assumed she would be the fairy tale ‘witch’ who has the power to help, but at a price. She comes very close, but then…ball dropped.
All the same, The Girl with Glass Feet is a beautifully evoked and imagined story with the just the right amount of invention balanced by reality. It also clearly maintains its fairy tale nature, with the requisite mixture of magic, fate, mystery, and romance, and Mr. Shaw, to his credit, gets the ending just right despite the various narrative balls he manages to drop and lose along the way.
And for me, Glass Feet, with its bleak otherworldliness and slightly fanciful flourishes, made a fairly good companion read to the final Harry Potter, although it’s hardly something to cheer you up. It has just enough magic to satisfy the Hogwarts-deprived, but also just enough references to the real world to ease readers back into the realm of contemporary fiction. On the whole, a beautiful first novel. I’m very much looking forward to Mr. Shaw’s forthcoming second book.