Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead

I...I don't know what I was expecting. It certainly wasn't this. I knew nothing about this book before picking it up. It turned up on one of my lists, and I ordered it from the library, and eventually read it.

And at times, it felt like it was written just for me. It fit so neatly into things I love, writing styles I enjoy, and tales that have personal resonance. Oh yes, and tears. There were tears.

It has the feel of a fairy tale crossed with a hint of horror. Creepiness lurked around the edges of the story, never overt, never overdone.  I suppose the best fairy tales have that as well - the original ones can have an ominous edge.

The writing was beautiful, and I enjoyed every word. They created mood and character so effectively and enchantingly.

Midas lives on St. Hauda's, a small island where odd things happen all the time, but no one ever talks about them. He sees the world through a camera lens.

Ida returns to St. Hauda's after having vacationed there because, well, because her feet are turning into glass, and she hopes to find a cure. She stays with a friend of her mother's, a man who loved her mother, and now is becoming obsessed with Ida herself.

Ida and Midas' lives have strange parallels, at least so it appears at the beginning, although as the story unfolds, what seem like mirror images turn out to be quite different, after all.

As the glass starts to creep up Ida's legs, Midas and Ida look for a cure, if they can find a connection, if they can be together even under the deadline Ida's affliction creates. The glass is never explained, and it doesn't need to be. Neither are the tiny creatures Henry Fuwa takes are of, nor the creature that turns everything that meets its eye pure white. They simply are part of St. Hauda.

The Girl with the Glass Feet is about seeing, and ways of mediating seeing. Of knowing and being known. Of repeating the patterns of the past, and that what you remember may not be the whole story.

(view spoiler)And it is about loss. Ida's affliction turns out, in the end to be irrevocable, and the time of being together she and Midas manage to snatch before the end is fleeting and bittersweet. Where it laid me low was at the end, as the glass stops merely creeping across her body and starts to move so fast it can be seen, turning Ida into glass entirely in Midas' arms. In this unnatural death I heard echoes of my father's death, of the days when the minutes moved slowly and we sat vigil beside his bed, and of the days when things moved far too quickly, when there wasn't enough time to even take in what was happening, let alone know how to react. Fast or slow, death comes, and this book evoked such strong memories of those days that I sat and wept.

It was also that moment of death, that moment that is so brief and so long, when it is both apparent what has happened, and you can't tell exactly when it happened. It's not always sharp and easy to tell. What was the moment when life was extinguished? Was it this one or the one before? Has it happened yet, or is it still happening?

I had never heard of Ali Shaw before. I hope to read more of his books, and I hope they live up to this first effort that has been haunting me for days.

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