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:
- You want to read a magical love story.
- You love atmospheric reads.
- You've experienced missed connections at one point in your life.