February 7, 2010

The Girl with Glass Feet Review

It is sometimes in the confounding of our expectations that a story can slip past our defenses, and so it is with The Girl with Glass Feet. The story centers on Midas Crook as he deals with family tragedy by mediating every interaction save a few through the lens of a camera. “I cope [. . .] with photography,” he explains early in the book. When he meets Ida, who has come to the remote archipelago of St. Hauda’s Land in search of a cure for an invasive metamorphosis of flesh to glass beginning with her toes, he is placed on a delicate journey back into his own body. Midas serves as a good fulcrum for the story, his own pain at the shifting of the story arcs apparent and well-drawn. Mr. Shaw draws Ida’s adaptability and determination as finely. Her response to her unexplained illness imposes upon the fairy tale elements a human dimension, linking with others mentioned in the story—and demonstrating that “why” questions are ultimately unanswerable and less important than those of how you will cope with the unexplained and painful events in life.

The Girl with Glass Feet is a thoughtful and interesting novel that brings some of the depth of feeling that old fairy tales had, when witches and curses were alive in the mind. As Mr. Shaw drains most of the colors from the land around them, the main characters dazzle in their sudden vividness. Ida’s irises gleam “titanium gray” and Midas chases a “golden ribbon” of light that dangles just out of his reach and then turns out to be resting beside Ida. A creature roams the forest that turns whatever glimpses it to stark white, the slow bleaching process both beautiful and eerie. Ida’s increasing physical pallor mirrors this transformation. The enchanted aspects carry sadness in addition to their beauty, echoing in the delicacy of the glass transformation in the way in which illness is shown to push and deform the family and personality of everyone around the sufferer. And yet, Mr. Shaw doesn’t ignore the beauty. When Midas and Ida find themselves become hills for one of the character’s herds of moth-like cattle, the sense of their looking out across eternity like the hills themselves and finding in this view a deep joy was as fulfilling a scene as any I’ve read lately.

While the answers that come from Ida and Midas sorting through the stories of their families and their tentative relationship were not what I had expected, I found myself reading hungrily and hopefully as the story moved toward the conclusion. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys traditional fairy tales that leave a bit of mystery in their weaving.

SFT thanks Henry Holt and Company for providing the review copy for this novel.

Good reading,

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