‘The Girl With Glass Feet’ by Ali Shaw

Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

Fiction – paperback; Atlantic Books; 295 pages; 2009.

Ali Shaw’s debut novel The Girl With Glass Feet is set on a fictional wind-swept island, St Hauda, where strange and unusual events take place. And there is no more strange and unusual event than having your feet turn into glass, which is what happens to the book’s central character, Ida MacLaird, who returns to the island in search of a cure.

Here she meets Midas Crook, a painfully shy young man, who distances himself from the rest of the world by observing it through the lens of a camera. Midas is emotionally damaged through no fault of his own: his parent’s had a troubled marriage, which ended in his father’s suicide, while his eccentric mother turned into a recluse.

The two develop a close friendship, which slowly morphs into love. Midas is anxious to help Ida find a solution to her fragile feet, but with the glass slowly taking over her body, it becomes a race against time. Will a cure be found? Or will Ida succumb to this unexplainable phenomenon?

There’s no doubt that The Girl With Glass Feet is a highly imaginative work of fiction and that Shaw is an ambitious writer. But I’m not sure the book succeeds other than depicting a beautifully described world in which enchanting, occasionally odd, things occur. For a start, the text is so oblique, it’s hard to get a handle on events: for much of this novel I felt I was standing on the sidelines watching as events unfolded rather than becoming immersed in the action. And there’s such a wide cast of characters, most of them cold, aloof and weak-willed, that it’s hard to keep track of them all and their relationship to the central pair of Midas and Ida.

I know that some people have struggled with the magic realism at the core of this novel — there are moth-winged cattle that flutter about, for instance — but I thought that added to the fairytale element of the story, and demonstrated very clearly that anything was possible on the island and that a cure for Ida’s glass feet, no matter how outlandish, may be possible.

As much as I did not fall in love with the story, I did appreciate many of the issues raised by it, not least the ways in which we deal with terminal illness and whether it is better to live your remaining life well or to chase a cure that may not exist. I think it’s fair to say that The Girl With Glass Feet may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m glad I read this book and will be very interested to see what Shaw comes up with next.

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10 thoughts on “‘The Girl With Glass Feet’ by Ali Shaw

  1. I was less gracious about this book than you, Kim. Magical Realism is one of my favourite styles of writing and yet it didn”t work for me; I think the obliqueness of the writing that you eloquent describe explains why I was never captivated. Highly imaginative, yes, and Shaw has a promising future ahead providing he can reign in his ambition some and did not invest all of his ideas into the one book.

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  2. Hi Claire… I’m not a fan of magic realism at all, and yet I didn’t mind the flying cattle in this one. Funnily enough, I found that my attitude/thoughts about this novel mellowed after I participated in last week’s discussion. I think if I had have written my review without the discussion it would have been much harsher than what I’ve posted today.

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  3. Having no problem with mystic realism or fantasy or anything a bit far out, I found the characters really weak. I want a reason to like the protagonist, or at least a reason to hate him/her, but with Ida or Midas I had nothing. She was ok, but elicited no emotional response and Midas, well, I just found him dull and wanted to slap him around a bit and say “Wake up!” and “Get over it!” (I’d make a pretty bad therapist in real life, I know.)
    I liked the cows with wings and I had high hopes for Henry and Carl, but both just fizzled away. Really, a shame. I also wanted to know desperately just what Midas’ father wrote down in that book to his son.
    The setting, the descriptions and the wonderful, windswept words is what kept me going. It didn’t sound like anywhere I ever wanted to visit, but it was described in such a haunting way that I just had to keep reading. I also loved the “turning into glass” twist and hoped that Ali Shaw would do more with it. But, as you said, Kim, it was one of those books where I felt I was standing on the sidelines, not immersed in the events or characters. I ended up giving it 2 stars out of 5 on my goodreads booklog (which on Goodreads stands for “it’s ok”).

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  4. Despite the mixed reviews of this I think I would like to give it a go, perhaps just because it sounds so quirky. Great review though Kim as it really highlights the elements that might be good or off-putting for people.

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  5. It sounds as though we had similar opinions of this book. I also found that the discussion helped me to appreciate the book more, but I found the passive style meant I didn’t care what happened at any point.

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  6. I had planned to read this book anyway after reading such a great review of it on Gaskella, but pleased you chose it for NTTVBG because that gave me an excuse to buy a copy and read it sooner.

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  7. I just finished reading TGWGF. And read the comments here. I think the novel is very good, actually. Yes, I want to be a little angry at the author for wanking about with weak-ish characters, but how else could he have handled weak people really? In the end I felt engaged, not smarmed and then ultimately disappointed. I liked the moth-winged cattle/Henry Fuwa elements a lot. I think the spaces in the novel were particularly well-rendered. I wanted more at the end and I think that speaks well of the author’s skill. One nit to pick, some of the titles of the locations seemed linty: “Lolendfolol” or whatever, got on my nerves a bit but other than that it was a pleasantly strange read.

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  8. The main character’s affliction reminds me of the main theme for A.S. Byatt’s Stone Woman. Except in that story, its different types of rocks instead of glass. I enjoyed Byatt’s story even though it was a difficult read.

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