Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

GENRE: fantasy/romance novel

A mysterious and frightening metamorphosis has befallen Ida MacLaird – she is slowly turning into glass. She returns to St Hauda’s Land, where she believes the glass first took hold, in the hope of finding the one man who might just be able to cure her. Midas Crook is a lonely young islander. When he meets Ida, something about her sad, defiant spirit pierces his emotional defences. As Midas helps Ida come to terms with her affliction, she gradually unpicks the knots of his heart, and they begin to fall in love. What they need most is time – and time is slipping away fast. Will they find a way to stave off the spread of the glass? The Girl with Glass Feet is a dazzlingly imaginative and gripping first novel, an enchanting love story to treasure.

I have to say that this book is one of the best books I have read this year. When I started reading it, I expected a fairy-tale for adults in the style of Neil Gaiman, but in truth, this book is a life story, with magical elements as a bonus. I loved it.

The story is mostly about Midas, but Ida as well, and both their stories begin when they meet each other. They are two very special and defined individuals and I loved reading about such multi-dimensional, intriguing characters. Midas is a young, extremely introverted man who loves photography. It is his way of seeing the world without having to touch it and be part of it, it seems. He puts his camera between himself and the world and captures the things that interest him, mostly changes in light. He is absolutely terrified of having to communicate with people and he has only one friend, Gustav, with his daughter Denver, that he trusts and hangs out with on a regular basis. Ida, on the other hand, is a girl full of life and spirit. She keeps searching for new adventures and is a very open, extroverted kind of girl who is never still for long. However, things change for her when she starts turning into glass and she must tone down her life style, losing herself a bit in the process. She becomes a shadow of her old self, but the fire in her is not extinguished. She wants to live and her life force is what keeps her sane and even happy.

When Ida and Midas meet, they are connected immediately. Midas fights this connection and Ida wants it, which poses a problem. However, no matter their desires, they both want one thing: to find the cure for Ida’s peculiar condition. For that, they need to find a local man, a very introverted man as well, called Henry Fuwa. Ida remembers that the previous year, when she visited St Hauda’s Land (an imaginary archipelago), this man, Henry Fuwa, told her about glass bodies in the bog and she knows that only he can help her, or no one else. But the search for Henry Fuwa forces Midas to re-live the past that he would rather forget, the past concerning his unfortunate father, distant mother and Henry Fuwa himself. At this point, it becomes clear that the story is not just about Midas and Ida, but about everyone they are involved with, as children, or friends. Their stories are revealed with beautiful prose and through them everything about Midas and Ida becomes much clearer. A reviewer, Buzzy Jackson, also an author, said perfectly that “Midas’s character acts as a passive fulcrum around which the increasingly dreamlike characters and plot developments of the novel spin.” This is absolutely true. Midas, as well as Ida, are at the centre of everything, and everyone else is a part of their orbit surrounding them.

The magic that’s present in this novel is really wonderful. It’s really subtle and the author makes it a part of ordinary life, so it’s really unobtrusive, but you can still feel it. I also have to compliment the author for creating such an amazing imaginary world. The story takes place on St Hauda’s Land, an archipelago of several islands. He described everything in such details - the geography, the towns, the history, the customs - that I actually Googled St Hauda’s Land. It’s not real, just Shaw’s imagination, but I have to say, his imagination is fantastic. I don’t know where St Hauda’s Land is supposed to be located because the author is never very specific about this, but based on his descriptions, it all sounds very English and I had this feeling that the archipelago might be located somewhere north of Scotland or maybe Ireland. It made me remember St Kilda, a very isolated island north of Scotland, far away from the mainland. I just loved Shaw’s invented world. He created it with authority. Also, Shaw’s language is incredibly beautiful, very lyrical, but also clear and straightforward. I absolutely loved reading this book just because of the language alone.

The plot itself is very interesting: a girl turning into glass and she’s not the only one. There is something very metaphorical about Ida’s condition. She is turning into glass, although she is a vibrant young woman who wants to live. Midas is in perfect health, but it feels as if he already is glass, lost in grief, remorse, and inability to move on. The question is: will Ida turn into glass eventually, something she doesn’t want, and will Midas finally break free, something he doesn’t really want?

What really surprised me is that, while I was Googling for information about this book, I learned something that I didn’t know before: there actually is a mental condition, or rather delusion, when a person believes that a part of their body, or their whole body, will turn into glass. That’s really fascinating and also scary. I feel sorry for those people, it must be hard for them, and I definitely felt a lot of sympathy for Ida, as well as for Midas. These two characters really reached out to me. And, the ending was kind of perfect for this story, although the romantic in me would have wanted a slightly more different ending.

Needless to say, I really loved the book and I recommend it. It’s not really a fantasy novel, but rather a novel with elements of fantasy, so it will also appeal to those who don’t read the fantasy genre much, or at all. It has a bit of everything - romance, drama, fantasy, Dickens and some magical realism.



Bethany said...

Oooh - this sounds really interesting! Thanks for the review!

Blodeuedd said...

I really enjoyed this one too, it was so strange, magical and that end,perfect really, even if I had wanted more

Unknown said...

I read this and I enjoyed it. I agree that the magic was very subtle and worked well with the setting. I have to say I didn't like the fact that no reason as to why she developed the condition was given. I felt a little cheated by that. Other people in my book group didn't think the "why" was important though but to me it mattered. Great detailed review.

Jan von Harz said...

Lovely review of what sounds like an intriguing story. Need to check this one out.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@ Bethany: You're welcome! I really think this is a great book.

@ Blodeuedd: I'm glad you liked it. And I totally agree with you.

@Becky: Wow, I also never considered the "why". I mean, I did once, at the very beginning, but then the story pulled me in so much and I figured it's just one of those things that simply "are". Good point! There has to be a "why".

@ Jan: Do check it out. It is really intriguing.

Julie P said...

This sounds like a truly unique book. Thanks for sharing!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I don't think this is a book I would have picked up on my own but it sounds really good-I need to read it now!

Unknown said...

Ooh! This book sounds lovely :-) Great review!

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

What a great review! I really MUST read this one asap - it's been on my wishlist for ages!