Sunday, February 14, 2010

A love story, a fairy tale

Have you ever read a book that you couldn't decide whether you like it or not? Ali Shaw's debut novel The Girl with Glass Feet is one such novel that I'm feeling very ambivalent about. I first heard this novel when it was included in the Not the TV Book Club at UK. I thought that if it was good enough to be selected, then it would probably be a good read. Besides, it's basically a love story, so it's the perfect read on Valentine's Day. So yes, I was prepared to get all sappy and cheesy should the novel decide to go in that predictable direction. Thankfully, it didn't.

The Girl with Glass Feet is a novel that is part love story, part fairy tale, and part mystery set in a small island in Europe called St. Hauda's Land. Based on Shaw's description of the island, St. Hauda is a bleak, desolate place. It's a place described in the novel as "incestuous," where everyone knows one another. (With all the romantic entanglements among the different characters, I kept thinking that St. Hauda's Land was one big Melrose Place.) Apparently, there's something magical about this place. You can see thumb-sized winged cows and white dragonflies the size of your hand. St. Hauda's Land is also where people have strange illnesses.

And one of these people is Ida Maclaird, a character who has returned to the island searching for a cure for her unusual condition. Ida Maclaird's feet have turned to glass, and it looks like this condition is slowly spreading throughout her body. She meets Midas Crook, a photographer who'se a long-time resident of the island. Midas eventually discovers Ida's condition and decides to help. This romantic relationship is too flawed to be sappy and cheesy. Shaw probably didn't want his characters to fall into a cliche: the sick but strong-willed woman and the awkward man who'll do anything for her. In fact, Midas never fully becomes comfortable with his relationship to Ida till the end of the book.

The Girl with Glass Feet, aside from being a love story between Ida and Midas, focuses on the past relationships: the infatuation of Ida's uncle on Ida's mother, and the relationship between Midas's mother and Henry Uwa, a man who breeds the small magical creatures. The novel somehow establishes that Henry has something to do with Ida's condition, but it's never fully revealed. I found this disappointing. There are just too many unanswered questions.

I wouldn't recommend Shaw's debut novel to anyone looking for a book to feel good. For one, The Girl with Glass Feet touches on depressing topics -- suicide, missed connections, and failed relationships. This is not something you read while on vacation. Shaw's writing, however, is wonderfully atmospheric and vivid. I ended up empathizing with Ida and Midas, and totally believing that a seemingly ordinary island can have magical elements. Shaw is indeed a talented writer. He depicts scenes in detail and probes each of his characters' feelings and personality.

The Girl with Glass Feet is definitely not a page-turner. You take your time with it. You savor each lyrical sentence, so that you fully appreciate Shaw's prose. I felt that the love story could have been more redeeming for both characters though. But, all told, Shaw's debut is a joy to read and a wonderful novel to get lost into.

Read this book if:
  1. You want to read a magical love story.
  2. You love atmospheric reads.
  3. You've experienced missed connections at one point in your life.

20 comments:

SariJ said...

Well happy Valentines day anyway?
It is too bad this book is not that good. I looked into reading because of its title. Thanks for the review. I will stay away from the book as I don't do depressing.

Diane said...

Your review was so good Peter. I really want to read this one evrn though fantasy is not my favorite genre. Depressing or not it sounds good, and --missed connections....oh yeah!

Have a great week and thanks for the review.

StephanieD said...

I had no ambivalence about this one - I most definitely liked it. True - it is not a fast-paced book, but the writing was lovely. I found the story had just the right touch of strange.

line of flight said...

i'm a big fan of traditional folktales, but not too sure about blending it with another genre. i have pretty high expectations for something called a fairytale. lol

Vivienne said...

I didn't realise it was depressing. I knew it had a magical theme, as I found this one for my Friday Finds a few months back. I think I would still read it.

You have me intrigued by the Not the TV Book Club in the UK. I have never heard of it, but shall look it up.

Peter S. said...

@SariJ: Happy Valentine's Day to you too!

@Diane: Have a good one too!

@StephanieD: Strange indeed!

@line of flight: Come to think of it, I don't know why this book was labeled as a "fairy tale."

@Vivienne: I can't wait to read about what you think of this book.

Mrs. B. said...

Sounds interesting Peter! I didn't know it was available here. Would you know if the other books from the Not the TV Book Club are available? I haven't seen any of them around.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Mrs. B! As far as I know, this is the only one that's available here. I bought my hardback copy at Powerbooks.

Alexia561 said...

I've read a few books where I couldn't decide if I liked it or not, so can totally understand your feelings. Don't think this one is for me, but I enjoyed your review.

Happy Valentine's Day Peter! :-)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Alexia! Happy Valentine's Day to you too!

Ryan G said...

I've been wanting to read this one and I appreciated your review.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Ryan! I also can't wait to hear your thoughts about this novel.

Davin Malasarn said...

I really appreciate your honest and direct book reviews. Books like this always interest me, so I think I'll check it out! Thanks!

josbookshelf said...

Hi, Peter! This sounds like a strange novel but a very appealing one despite your caveat on its depressing tone.

Into my Shelfari wishlist it goes. :)

Peter S. said...

@David: Thanks! This is a very interesting read indeed.

@josbookshelf: Depressing, but in a good way.

aenid said...

looks nice. i like the cover. harhar. :)
i may read this but not now. i'm already depressed, i want a happy ending. :)

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Interesting review. I am curious about the book now. I just reviewed a book on suicide and found the story line interesting and really gave me a lot to think about.

Peter S. said...

@aenid: Thanks for dropping by!

@Sheila: Oh, I'll check out that book you've mentioned.

stacybuckeye said...

I know you say you didn't love it, but your review has me curious. I'm going to have to take a look at it. But not when I want to be cheered up!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stacy! The topic is depressing, but the writing is wonderful!